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Tips for Managing a Team for the First Time
Management is generally considered the next logical step after good performance in a role, rather than as a career path in its own right. This means that training and development for new leaders is often at best sketchy, and at worst non-existent.
So if you’ve been thrown in at the deep end, how can you make sure you stay afloat?
Here are five areas you should address in detail in your first management role.
Define Your Management Styles
For seasoned managers, the right management approach and behaviours for different contexts may come naturally. But when you’re in charge of a team for the first time, you’ll need to think carefully about what management style to adopt, and when.
Start by considering the goals of your organisation, your team, and individual team members. Do your people need to follow instructions to the letter, or should they be creative and work on their own initiative?
There are two extremes when it comes to management style; a dictatorial approach, and a liberal one. Of course, it is rarely a good idea to commit yourself to just one approach, and the best management styles normally incorporate elements of both.
In line with what your team members need to achieve, think about whether it will be most effective to keep a tight rein, or to let go a little. In certain contexts, it might be best to offer lots of autonomy. For example, where you’re managing those in roles that require large amounts of innovation, or senior professionals who have a great deal of expertise in their area, it might be best to offer a high degree of freedom.
Set SMART Targets
You’ve probably had objectives set for you until now, perhaps contributing to them to some degree. But as a manager, you’re responsible for crafting your own objectives in line with broader organisational goals, as well as for setting them for each of your team members.
When setting targets for others, remember to make them specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART). Avoiding vague expectations not only helps you hold team members to account more effectively, but gives everyone a real sense of direction and, ultimately, achievement.
Objectives should not be forced upon people, but drawn up in collaboration based on a shared understanding of goals, abilities and needs. Don’t be afraid to invite input from each team member when it comes to targets; any unwillingness to accept certain expectations will shine a helpful light on issues relating to the nature of the expectations or the attitudes and abilities of team members, and possibly both.
Have a Communication Strategy
Too many managers approach communication as an afterthought; don’t be one of them. In fact, communication is the lifeline of any team. Without it, not only would no one have any idea what to do each day, but there would be no goals, no vision, and no means of motivation.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a sturdy communication plan in place. Begin by defining your team’s communication objectives. Perhaps you need to brief team members on tasks, give appraisals, and offer encouragement. It’s likely that you need to do all of this and much more.
You then need to match each objective with the most effective means of communication. For example, while you could send short pieces of information and instructions by email, it’s normally more powerful to share broader vision and goals face-to-face to give you the opportunity to address objections, and ensure maximum buy-in.
Choosing and using the right forms of communication is your chance to get your team working as a strong, tight-knit unit that shares a common purpose. Make sure it matches with the management styles you decide on for different contexts and team members.
Create a Training and Development Plan
If you remember one thing as a manager, make it this: your purpose is to serve the needs of your team, not the other way round.
John F. Kennedy’s line, “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country” sums this up well. The way to build a thriving team (or country for that matter) is not to think about how it can serve you, but about what you need to contribute in order to make it successful.
In your new role, you’re in charge of ensuring team members have everything they need to achieve great things. This covers not just material resources but also skills and knowledge, which means it’s hugely important to plan for relevant training and development.
You may require team members to undergo standard training or qualifications, but don’t neglect the personal touch that can make the difference between an engaged team member and a disenchanted employee. Make sure you spend enough time listening to each person, and feeding back useful, individualised information.
Each person in your team will need different amounts of support from you, and you should consider this in line with the management styles you utilise. While those at the beginning of their development journey might benefit from extensive training, coaching and mentoring, more senior staff are likely to flourish with a bit more independence. And don’t forget, you could be able to learn a thing or two from your team members as well!
Prepare to Meet Stakeholder Needs
As a new manager, it’s not just your team members you have to look after. You’ll also be responsible for satisfying the needs of a variety of stakeholders, from the company board to your team members’ customers.
The sheer number of stakeholders you’re accountable for can be overwhelming, so it’s wise to perform some kind of stakeholder analysis. A simple way of doing this is to make a list of your stakeholders, and assign each a level of importance and a level of influence. Importance is how significant each stakeholder is to your interests, while influence is how much power each stakeholder has over your actions and the decisions you make.
You can then plot stakeholders against these two variables in a matrix format made up four boxes for each of the combinations. This will help you to visualise which stakeholders are both important and influential and should be prioritised, and which are just one or neither, and so are not of immediate concern.
While it can be tempting to see good management as simple common sense, each of these areas needs to be considered carefully in order to achieve an engaged and high-performing team. Plan your actions thoroughly, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming an exemplary manager.
The topics looked at in this article will be explored further in a webinar with leadership expert Nigel Girling. Find out more and sign up here.
About the Author
Jannike Ohsten manages digital marketing at Babington Group, a training provider specialising in CMI accredited leadership and management mentoring programmes.