Best Practices for Leading A Successful Team

leading a successful team

If you’ve been in the workforce for more than a decade, then you have experienced working with various supervisors over the years. Some have been genuinely wonderful leaders, while others are less desirable in one way or another. Still, through your experiences with these managers, you can incorporate a leadership style to use once you get to the point in your career where you have a team of direct reports. But, how do you know if you’re doing it right? 

The most obvious way to gauge how you’re doing as a manager is by looking at whether or not your team is successful. It’s important to note that success, in this context, is about more than just deliverables. For instance, your employees can meet metrics month after month. Still, if they’re not collaborating well, if they come in with poor attitudes more often than not, or there’s an increase of resignation letters, it’s hard to consider the team successful. A successful team comprises individuals who work well together, are aligned in a common goal, feel supported and fulfilled, and collectively contribute to advancing the company’s goal. 

As a manager, to foster this kind of team success, you have to find the right balance of requiring excellence from your employees and establishing a trusting, supportive relationship with them. If you sway too far one way, your employees might see you as too demanding and impossible to please, and if you lean too much in the other direction, you may have trouble getting the team to take you and your expectations as seriously as they should. It’s a fine line to walk, so it’s completely understandable if you’re questioning yourself as a supervisor and or your leadership style.

While there’s no fool-proof way to know you’re doing everything right, there are some best practices for managers to help them lead successful teams. 

Get To Know Your Staff (And Let Them Get To Know You)

For a team to be successful, trust and respect are essential at the co-worker and supervisor-employee levels. While this may seem obvious, it’s impressive how easily managers can get so focused on metrics and deliverables that they forget to see their employees as individuals with lives and goals outside their current jobs. This kind of treatment can create tension and make a healthy work-life integration difficult for employees. 

To avoid this fate as a manager, it’s essential to take the time to get to know the individuals on your team. It shouldn’t be a one-time thing, either. You should continuously show interest in them as individuals. Some things to consider regularly asking team members include: 

  • Updates on a loved one or life event that has been an ongoing challenge in some way
  • Questions specific to a hobby or something they enjoy outside of work such as sports, travel, cooking, etc. 
  • Check-ins about broad and or long-term career goals 
  • Whether or not everything is okay if they seem to be struggling (just make sure you ask this in a way that shows concern for them as a person, not because of their work quality)
  • Latest updates on their kids or pets

It’s also a good idea to share personal stories about yourself with your team, too, so that the relationship doesn’t seem one-sided. Of course, it’s crucial to maintain some boundaries. Still, by connecting with your employees personally, they’ll humanize you and will likely develop a sense of trust and mutual respect in the relationship. 

Set Clear Expectations

Your team, as individuals and collectively, needs clear expectations. As a manager, you need to understand that perceptions of what is and isn’t essential vary from person to person, so setting clear expectations for your employees will help them know what you need from them. Some areas that may require you to set expectations explicitly include:

  • General employee behaviors, such as when/how they sign in and out for the day
  • Priorities, especially if there’s a sudden change with a new project or deadline
  • Work quality
  • Work-related communication

Be Transparent and Realistic  

Employees can tell when things are “off” at the office, and there’s nothing that will destroy trust, quite like a team feeling that there’s a significant crisis or change going on that no one knows. Of course, as a manager, you’re often privy to confidential information that you can’t share with your team, but when things are going on that can affect them, it’s best to address as much as you can and to answer your employees’ questions (even if all you can say is, “I don’t know”) than to leave them in the dark. By doing this, you’re showing them that you’re all a team, that you’re in this together, and that they can trust you. 

📖 Read more: A healthy work environment is essential for every employee. Use these helpful tips to cultivating a positive workplace culture for your team

Likewise, transparency and being realistic are also important on an individual level. If one of your employees isn’t meeting expectations or their performance isn’t where you’d like it to be, you should sit down with them to discuss what’s going on. It may be that they have no idea they’ve been doing something wrong, or there could be more happening in their personal life that you just don’t know about. In any case, this transparency will help avoid a situation where an employee feels blindsided with something like a poor performance review or a formal warning of some kind. 

Participate in Goal Setting and Career Planning

Whether your organization has a formal goal management process or not, you should take an interest in your employees’ long-term goals, both in their current position as well as in their career as a whole. This will give them the sense that you’re there to help them progress and that you want them to grow and succeed professionally. 

You can do this by: 

  • Helping your employees establish clear goals and creating roadmaps for achieving them
  • Develop a realistic plan for promotions or career growth within the organization; checking in with them regularly as things evolve internally
  • Meet regularly to work on goal setting and success plans
  • Help them find continuing education or professional development courses that will benefit their career (especially if the company will pay for them to attend the classes)
  • Set up quarterly check-ins for the two of you to talk, allow your employee to vent or bounce ideas off of you, and or reevaluate their current roadmap

Give and Ask For Feedback

To succeed, everyone needs feedback. As a manager, you need to provide feedback to your employees individually and the team as a whole. It can be done through employee reviews, after significant projects, or just as a way to show an employee that you’ve noticed the extra effort they’ve been putting in lately. Positive and constructive feedback is essential to individual and team performance, primarily when delivering it in a way that encourages them rather than criticizes them. 

It’s also essential for you to ask your team for feedback on you as a manager (after all, how can you lead a successful team if you’re not succeeding yourself?). Unfortunately, it can be challenging to get your direct reports to provide constructive criticism simply because they fear retaliation. To get around this, you might need to develop a way to provide feedback confidentially, such as through an anonymous survey or their HR representatives. 

Make Yourself Approachable and Available

Your employees will need to come to you for various reasons, be it work-related or personal. They may have questions on how to complete a task or need to ask for an extension on a deadline. Perhaps they are having difficulties with a peer or another leader within the organization or need to fill you in on something they’re coping with at home. Regardless of the reason, your employees will need to feel like they can come to you when needed. For this reason, you need to find a way to make yourself available to your staff, such as blocking off a few hours every day to serve as “office hours” or implementing the “my door is always open” policy for your staff. 

It’s more than simply being available, though. Your employees must also feel comfortable coming to you. Suppose you’re too intimidating or just unapproachable in general for some reason. In that case, it’s going to be hard for someone on your staff to muster up the courage to tell you they’ve made a mistake on their work or confide in you that they’ve been diagnosed with postpartum depression and will need extra time off even though they just got back from maternity leave. By being approachable, you’re affirming that feeling of trust and mutual respect across your team that, again, is essential for success. 

Be An Advocate

For a lot of employees, the best managers are the ones that have their back and will go to bat for them when the situation calls for it. As a supervisor, you’re the last line of defense your employee has in some circumstances. If you don’t defend them or fight for them, it could give the impression that you’re not actually on their team, which will deteriorate trust very quickly. 

There are many situations where a leader needs to advocate for their employee, such as for a raise, defending them against the leadership in another department, and supporting their ideas. Regardless of the context, if your employees know that you’re loyal to them and feel confident that you will look out for them, they’ll be more inclined to work a little harder and deliver results. 

Final Thoughts

“Success” looks different for every team, and a strategy or behavior that works for one manager may completely flop for another. As with many things in life, you’ll need to go through a bit of trial and error to be the best manager possible. You’ll have to do a bit of navigating based on your personality and your employees’ personalities. Regardless of the specifics, though, the one thing every manager of a successful team has done is establish trusting relationships with their employees. 

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