The top soft skills for efficient teams
QUESTION: What is the biggest influence on your team’s efficiency?
ANSWER: You, the manager.
Don’t believe it? What about the old truism, people leave managers not companies? Alternatively, think about the impact your manager has on your working life. They treat you one way, you’re fired up, ready to go and have what you need to get the job done. They treat you another, you’re just five-bar-gating the minutes until knocking off time.
Your job depends on your team’s performance for a reason… because your team’s performance depends on you. And while understanding the ins and outs of their tasks, keeping a close eye on workflow, setting SMART objectives and other ‘hard’ management skills are important, the factor that really tips the balance in favour of efficient teamworking is the soft skills that you bring to the role.
Let’s take a look at a few of those essential skills…
#1 Whenever possible, give your team the freedom to innovate
Doing everything ‘by the numbers’, the way it’s always been done, can sometimes be essential. But often, whatever the task, there’s room to do it better, faster, more efficiently. And who better to suggest improvements than the people doing the thing you’re trying to improve?
Encourage ideas and fresh thinking. The opportunity to innovate drives ownership, and ownership boosts performance. What’s more, motivating your team to think about making changes helps them to deal with change in general.
#2 Encourage independence and self-determination
Again, where possible… But if every decision has to be taken by the manager (you!) then not only are you discouraging new thinking (see point #1) but you’re also effectively telling them not to take responsibility. Yes, some decisions will always lie with you but maybe there are opportunities – a discrete project, perhaps – that you could just set the parameters for and then leave the individual to run it solo (while remaining available should they need help, of course).
#3 Coach for success
How do you learn best? By doing or by being told what to do? Thought so. And naturally, it’s the same for your team. Yes, often some instruction is necessary but as an individual works their way through a new task, procedure or project, encouraging them to find the answers themselves, supported by you as coach, will result in solid learning. With this approach, they end up understanding the new ‘thing’ much more fully, and are more likely to be able to contribute new ideas or possible improvements. You’re also building a culture of learning that contributes to a more flexible and agile team.
#4 Have a performance conversation NOT performance appraisal
Most organisations have some form of performance management system, often involving regular (annual?) meetings between manager and worker to discuss their job performance. The easy – and traditional – option is to spend this meeting telling your team member what you think, what you have observed. Fine, up to a point, but a little one-way, no.
A two-way dialogue puts you on a more equal footing, makes it easier for the other person to contribute, and encourages them to think about their own performance, where it might be improved, and where they’re doing really well. Far more engaging and motivating, and a deeper type of communication more likely to result in genuine, sustained improvement.
In a sense, there’s little new in extolling the benefits of treating people as people rather than as recalcitrant units of production (Douglas McGregor was opening up this area in the 1950s with his X and Y managerial types). However, there are many, many managers still stuck in ‘tell’ mode, failing to share responsibility with their teams. And, therefore failing to enjoy the efficiency benefits that come from a more engaged workforce.
If you’d like to explore this further, we cover a number of essential soft skills for managers in our new range of management and personal effectiveness modules. Check out our page for details or give us a call on 01582 714280.