6 mistakes in team management and how to avoid them

Every day is a new challenge for many companies. All of them have to look for new ways to acquire customers, plan on staying ahead of the competition, and work efficiently and effectively at the same time. Sometimes, the managers tend to neglect the most important area, which is effective team management. It’s a leader’s responsibility to build and look for good relationships within a team, engage and motivate, and all this includes proper communication. When you have a feeling that despite following these rules you don’t fully use your team’s potential, you may make one of these scientifically proven mistakes in management. Let’s take a look at six of them.

Lack of trust

Lack of trust in the employee, his competences and skills are some of the main causes of a team’s problems. When you over-control, you may soon observe a growing snowball: suddenly, employees are reluctant to ask for help and they aren’t keen on offering it to others. Also, they avoid spending time with their coworkers, which translates into communication difficulties. The lack of trust often goes hand in hand with the lack of interest in the employees’ opinions. The effects of such a management system are described by the Hawthorne effect. This phenomenon, studied almost a century ago, allowed to observe how changes in a workplace affect employees’ effectiveness. It turns out that even a small increase in attention paid to the team members resulted in an increase in the effectiveness of their work. What is important, the increase in work efficiency was caused not so much by the changes, as by the fact of paying attention to each team member individually.

From 2015 to 2017, ICAN Institute conducted a study of the Hawthorne effect, looking at several thousand work stations. The researchers were learning the degree of the workload of employees and collected information on their tasks. After comparing the periods before and after the study, they noted an increase in employees’ effectiveness by 16 percentage points. Interestingly, the effectiveness and involvement dropped to the level before the study after cessation of positive comments from managers. The changes in the workplace don’t have to be enormous – what matters most is devoting the time and giving the employees the responsibility for their tasks.

Communication disruptions

Although it may seem that good communication is an obvious aspect of the proper functioning of a team, not every manager is aware of that. According to the Salesforce study, just over 85% of respondents blame poor communication and lack of teamwork for the failure of projects. At the same time, only less than 20% of the surveyed employees mention communication issues during the team’s meetings or when discussing periodic work results. What do these statistics come from? This may be partly due to a lack of manager’s soft skills and not seeing the need for communication in a team.

How to solve the problem of ineffective communication from a leader’s position? Firstly, conversations with a manager shouldn’t be associated only with delegating tasks and giving orders. In fact, the leader’s role is quite the opposite: it’s all about listening to the team members and giving them the time to talk about their insecurities or issues. As a leader, try to manage the conversation by asking questions, so that the employee, answering them, can find himself the source and a solution to the problem.

When making decisions, you need to have perfect knowledge of a topic or a problem. That is why involving employees in making decisions is so important. Don’t consider yourself infallible – everyone, including the manager, has the right to make mistakes. By giving team members the ability to solve difficulties, you engage them in their work. Liz Wiesman and Greg McKeown have summed it up brilliantly in their book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter: even if the leader has his own specific vision of the direction of action, he doesn’t impose it on his subordinates. Those who add wings do not give ready-made answers. Instead, they provide people with relevant, thought-provoking tips so that they can discover and understand the benefits of the opportunity. This is also how the process of exploration and discovery begins.

It is also important to look closely at the messages you are sending. They should underline your trust in a team, shape openness to discussions, and build a sense of responsibility in each team member. This relates to not giving hasty advice – as a leader you should always begin from the conversation. Marshal B. Rosenberg writes about it in Nonviolent Communication, offering to follow the principle of paraphrasing. He advises listening to what people need or require from the leader and try to paraphrase their statements in order to get to the bottom of their problems. It is also extremely important to provide space for conversations about difficulties so that the employee will feel understood.

Difficulties with motivating

Being able to adequately motivate the employees is key in effective team management. Frederic Laloux writes about it, stating that the management method of “a carrot and a stick” known from the past don’t bring results anymore. Why? Its goal is to enforce obedience and not (as it should be) to strengthen the sense of self-fulfillment. According to the State of the Global Workplace research conducted by Gallup, only about 15% of people are involved in their work. The rest of the employees, in fact, devote their time to work, but not always share their best ideas or fully engage in their tasks. Is it possible to change that? Partially, yes, and the answer is the motivation on the part of the superior.

What is important, is to understand the 3 levels of motivation, described by L. M. Miller. His hierarchy of motivation shows the three points that every leader should be aware of. The first level is a goal, by most organizations described as a mission. In Deviniti, we put partnership, knowledge sharing with clients, and support first. For other companies, a mission may be to help save valuable time or free up your potential. The employees want to be a part of a company when they identify themselves with its goals. As a manager, you can also build a team-level mission, which will help increase the level of motivation of each of its members.

The second point in Miller’s hierarchy is the social level. Motivation comes from teamwork. Sharing both successes and failures result from human nature, which has been repeatedly confirmed in research. Relationships in a team have a significant impact on the motivation of the individual employees. This is why it is so important to care for relationships and connections in the team.

Apart from caring about an employee’s long-lasting motivation, it’s crucial to react quickly to different situations. It ties with the situational level in Miller’s hierarchy, which assumes an ongoing response to the positive and negative aspects of a person’s work. The motivation should result from a well-structured, clear system of bonuses and penalties, and every manager has to enforce it in the same way with each team member.

two astronauts with some technical problems

Uneven workload and not investing in talents

Some managers may tend to put more responsibilities on whose team members who perform better. In this case, the results are unambiguous: 97% of employees and managers claim that the lack of harmony in a team directly affects the result of tasks and projects (according to the Salesforce study). It’s also the role of a manager to invest in the team members’ talents and pay attention also to those who may seem competent enough to independently cope with each task assigned to them. Recognizing a talent and investing your time will lead to an increase in their involvement and motivation. Optimization of the processes in a team can be done in many ways, but it should be based on proven tools that will transparently show the progress of employees’ work and help to streamline their workflow.

The manager’s role is also to invest in the talents of team members and to pay attention also to those people who seem competent enough to deal on their own with the goals set for them. Noticing a talent and investing your time in it will result in increased commitment and motivation. A common mistake that inexperienced leaders make is not investing in a talent and ignoring it. People who work hard and are self-contained are sometimes left alone, while the employees who are not so much involved in work gain extra time from the manager. Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad write about this issue of proper resources allocation, pointing to the fact of hiring new employees instead of developing the talents of current team members. They believe management should focus on increasing productivity and helping existing team members, rather than investing in new employees.

At this point, it is also valid to take a look at the manager’s character. Liz Wiesman and Greg McKeown mention it in Multipliers, describing two extremely different models of a leader. The first ideal model is a leader that gives wings. What can we tell about him? It’s the employee engagement, mentioned before. This can be easily noticed by the example of in-house meetings. The described manager spends 90% of the time listening to the team members and involving them in self-inquiry, and only 10% speaking, which is also aimed at employee development.

How does the second model look like? The manager who “clips the wings” usually makes all decisions on their own completely unconsciously (or with one trusted person) and is convinced of the superiority of their own knowledge and competences. By not giving employees the ability to solve problems, he prevents them from developing and ultimately brings no long-term benefits for the team.

Lack of support from the organization

Forgetting about the fact that we are all in the same boat within the whole organization happens at every level and probably in every company. Apart from building a community, it is worth looking at the concept of the so-called psychological safety. When team members feel comfortable raising difficult issues, often give and receive feedback, and know that making a mistake won’t expose them to interpersonal threats, we could say that they can feel safe at work. Building this safety allows to reduce conflicts and encourage employees to express their opinions, which eventually leads to an increase in work efficiency.

How to implement support in this area? One method is to encourage team members (including a manager) to talk frankly about the various stages of the project – not only about the progress, but also the obstacles related to them. Honest recognition of the difficulties will encourage other employees to express their fears and will normalize failures that are a natural part of managing tasks. The team debriefing process, which consists of learning from experience, allows the team to learn in quickly changing situations. Employees, when discussing the project, can share their observations, mistakes, or issues that they have noticed, and also offer their solutions to the following stages of the project.

We also use such practices in our teams in Deviniti. After the project is completed, we organize a lessons learned meeting, where the whole team discusses all – both positive and negative – aspects of the project. This helps us to approach tasks with reflection and work together to develop solutions that help avoid at least some of the mistakes in the future.

Making excuses and going below the line

The last mistake some managers struggle with is making excuses. The noticeable problem begins when the team members feel that they must blame others for their failures: the coworkers, the clients, or even random situations. It is the leader’s duty to create an atmosphere comfortable enough so that employees do not feel they have to make excuses. To do this, working on remaining honest within a team is crucial. In such situations, admitting the temporary lack of motivation or laziness is not a problem – in a transparent system, it should be easy for both both the team and the manager.

The issue of going below the line described by the R. Connors, C. Hickman, and T. Smith in The Oz Principle, is related to making excuses. The fine line introduced by the authors is a very fine line that separates success (of a company or a team) from failure. By descending below the line, and therefore also making excuses, employees can get caught up in a cycle of victimization, that is blaming each other for the failures. This leads to a decrease in enthusiasm and determination loss. It’s the manager who is responsible for breaking this cycle, open the team for reflection, increase motivation, and not tolerate ignoring problems. In this place, it’s also important to introduce a definition of co-responsibility, according to which each team member should try to go beyond the current circumstances and get involved in order to finally enjoy the achievement of results.

Finally, let’s mention the five areas developed by Liz Wiesman and Greg McKeown that should be used by the perfect leader. They are:

  1. attracting and caring for talents,
  2. creating an environment conducive to hard work and free expression of thoughts,
  3. challenging employees,
  4. consulting decisions with the team,
  5. implanting a sense of responsibility in employees.

Would you like to improve communication in your team? Find out more about effective tasks and project management. Take a look at our proposed tools to streamline communication and measure work progress. Not sure, which solution would be the best choice for your team? Contact us! We’ll be happy to discuss your needs and help you with implementing the optimal tool.

The article was written in collaboration with Magdalena Korgul, a Content Specialist at Deviniti.

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Katarzyna Man

A Team Leader and IT Project Manager in Deviniti, connected to the software industry since her freshman year of studies. she has contributed to many successful IT projects, both traditional and agile. She builds teams based on open communication, honesty, and freedom of thinking. For her, work is her passion, as she spends most of her time doing it.

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