One of the under-sung roles of managers is to oversee and manage the work of their team. This task, which looks easy on the surface is, essentially, a combination of delegation, coaching, communication and juggling.
It requires an understanding of your team members, a knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses, an awareness of their working preferences and development needs, and an ability to calculate rapidly how long work will take depending on who is doing it. It also means being able to give good, confident and constructive feedback when necessary.
It is, perhaps, not surprising that many new managers find this task difficult.
Just getting to know your team can be the work of many months. Adding in the need to understand the work, the tasks required, and the time they take makes this a real challenge for anyone. It is, however, a very useful skill. Fortunately, it is also one that can be developed over time with a bit of patience.
Accept your limitations
Perhaps the first step towards developing this skill is to accept that nobody gets it right all the time.
You will make mistakes. There will be times when you fail to delegate tasks, when someone lets you down, or simply when something gets forgotten.
Learn from your experience.
Use what happens as a way to explore what kind of control you like to maintain over tasks, ways that you can do so, and to learn about your team. That way, the whole experience will be more comfortable for everyone, including you.
When you first become a manager, whether of one person or several, there are two main possible scenarios:
- You are establishing a new team, and you are all new to the job. No tasks have been divided up yet and you will have to work out a sensible split of responsibilities.
- You are joining an existing team. Job roles are broadly agreed. One of your first tasks is to work out who does what, and whether that is the best way of dividing up the work.
In many ways the first is easier because you simply start dividing up the work as it comes in, making clear that this is a temporary fix until you see what works. However, both can be managed the same way. You encourage team members to come to you if they are over- or under-worked, and you juggle the work around until everyone has broadly the same amount.
With luck, a flexible approach, and a reasonably proactive team, your team will take their cue from you, and start to juggle their own work, offering to help each other out when one person is busy.
In the meantime, you can spend time getting to know each person.
You need to understand a bit more about what motivates them, what sort of work they like and dislike, and their strengths and weaknesses. You also want to know whether they are looking for promotion, and therefore develop their skills much more, or whether they want to stay where they are for the time being.
This will determine how you allocate future work, ensuring a suitable mixture of stretch assignments for those who want them. You do, after all, need to make sure that the work gets done to the required standard.
You may find our pages on Personal Development and Team-Working quite useful, if only as background reading.
The Main Skills Needed to Oversee Work Effectively
It is possible to argue that almost any skill is vital to help you oversee work effectively. Communication skills, for example, are important in any interpersonal interaction, and managers inevitably need to have good communication skills, both speaking and listening.
However, there are some skills which are particularly helpful in this particular management situation.
Learning to delegate effectively is something of an art. It requires an understanding of yourself, and the amount of control that you want over the task. It also requires you to be able to communicate this fully to the person to whom you are delegating.
Our page on Delegation Skills explains the nine possible levels of delegation, ranging from ‘Look into this problem. Give me all the facts. I will decide what to do’ right through to ‘Take action. No further communication with me is necessary’.
An understanding of your level of comfort with each level—and also the comfort of members of your team—is vital for positive delegation experience.
Managing work effectively across the whole team means being able to develop and bring on team members. There are two essential areas of skill for this: feedback and coaching skills
Giving feedback is easy. Shouting at the top of your voice “That was absolutely rubbish!” is giving feedback.
Giving effective feedback—that is, feedback that is heard and acted upon—is much harder. There are some useful rules about good feedback, including that it should be about behaviour, as specific as possible, and about the effect of the behaviour on you. It should also be provided soon after the event, and at a suitable moment.
There is more about this in our page on Giving and Receiving Feedback.
A good coach—or a manager using a coaching approach—starts from the position that the person they are coaching, or their team member, knows the answer to their problem, and just needs a bit of support to learn.
This is, oddly enough, easier as a new manager, because you may well not be an expert in the subject matter. You may, therefore, really not know the answers, and be dependent on your team to work them out.
There is more about this in our pages on Coaching Skills, including how to avoid problems when coaching someone whom you manage, and the importance of both what you say, and how you say it.
Try it and see…
An important part of a coaching approach, both with yourself and with your team, is the idea of ‘trying it to see’.
In other words, give yourself the opportunity to try new things and potentially fail, without considering that a disaster.
In delegating work, you can, for example, say,
“I’m going to give this work to you, but if in a couple of weeks you think you’re a bit overloaded let me know and we’ll look again.”
“I’m worried that I’ve given you too much/too little to do, so please let me know how it works out. We can always shift things around if necessary.”
It will help you and your team to understand that work allocations are fluid, and that working flexibly is important to manage peaks and troughs in demand.