7 Steps for Giving Direction to Team Members – Drive action & results, not confusion
As a new manager, giving direction to team members seems pretty easy. You tell them what you want, and they go and do it – right. Anyone who has spent time as a manager probably wishes it could be that easy. I certainly have many times.
Giving direction to employees and then seeing them take action and deliver the results you want takes skill. It is not easy. With this article, I hope to make giving direction to team members easier and more productive for you.
Put each of these steps into practice when giving direction to teams and you will improve how your team works, and the results they deliver, which in turn benefits you.
This Article Covers:
- Know your team and play to strengths
- Be specific when setting direction
- Provide the why or vision when giving direction
- Ask the team to plan the route
- Plan for change and uncertainty
- Trust the team and verify
- Praise and positive reinforcement work – use them
Know Your Team Before You Start Giving Direction To Team Members
Some team members will just want to agree a really clear picture of the goals to achieve, and they want to be the ones to work out the route to get to those goals. They have the capability and desire to do this. If you try to give them the route, you will be wasting your time and their talents.
Other team members would have a small heart attack if you expected this from them. They want and need different levels of support to plan out the route to get to the goal. Giving direction to team members and providing Support is not necessarily telling them what to do. Many want the challenge of working out what they can and certainly don’t want to be micromanaged. As their manager, you will need to flex the level of support you give to them depending on the person and project.
And you might have team members who do need support approaching what most would consider micromanagement – say if you have an under skilled or underperforming employee on the team.
So work out exactly what skills and strengths each of your team members have. Then compare this to what you expect the project or activity will demand from them before giving direction to employees.
Work out who is best to deliver what. Feel out the level of support each person needs as they work through the project.
Be specific when setting direction when giving direction to team members
Ideally you are setting out where you want the team to get to. This should be a specific goal or at least a clear vision of what success looks like.
The more specific you are able to be in describing the goal, the clearer it will be when that goal has been reached. Being specific when giving direction will also make it easier to plan how to get to that goal. A specific example might be
“I want to get the profitability of the products we sell to customer x to over 20% on average within the next 6 month, without shrinking the account”.
This is a fairly specific goal, which is timebound. Compare this to:
”We need to increase profitability. I want you to work out how we will do this”.
This general goal gives the team members very little direction, and we don’t know what would be considered a success. Set goals that are specific and don’t leave a lot to interpretation. If you set general goals, everyone might end up with a different ideas about what that goal is.
Note we have been talking about setting a goal or a place to get to and I have not been talking about how to get there. For people competent in their role – they won’t need instructions on how to get there – they can work this out for themselves. They may want support, to be able to bounce ideas around with you and to run their preferred route past you to get your approval. Do not micromanage and give them the space to use their skills.
Provide The Why When Giving Direction to Employees
Providing the why – you want to reach a goal provides context. This helps those having to work out how they are going to get to that goal. The why also builds in flexibility as those delivering the project or activity understand why you want to get to the goal and can make decisions in the best interests of getting to the goal and preserving the reasoning behind the goal.
Providing the why reduces the team members reliance on you to provide input and increases their ownership and motivation. Explaining the why treats then as valuable trusted colleagues with skills to bring to bear to solve the problem rather than robots that need to follow direction.
Always explain the why and provide the vision surrounding the request or goal you have set out when giving direction to team members.
Ask the team to plan the route when giving direction to team members
There are so many benefits of taking this step, some being:
- Saves you time solving problems
- Allows you to leverage your skills across a larger number of team members – important for promotions for instance
- Helps team members develop problem solving skills, project management and leadership skills
- Increases employees’ ownership of the solution, thus increasing the likelihood of a successful implementation
- Provides motivation and development for team members
- Makes the project more enjoyable to do, particularly for the more capable team members
- Increases the chances of success of the project
- Requires you to coach and mentor rather than project manage.
Some managers worry that they will lose control of the project or activity. Or that they are rendering their role less important.
I would argue that you gain more control of the project if you are coaching and mentoring the team members in the right way, and if you can manage 20 projects rather than 4 projects, you are going to be a lot more valuable to the company.
You do have to change the way you exercise control – from direct to more indirect and you do need to follow-up more regularly. I cover this more in step 6.
Overcome any fears you have of “letting go” and you will be better off as a manager for all the reasons outlined.
Plan for change and uncertainty when giving direction to employees
Business environments are changing all the time, externally and internally. When giving direction to team members you should factor some change and uncertainty into the project.
This might be as simple as giving yourself a few more days to complete a project to cover the unexpected and urgent problems that will come up.
Or it might be rigorously scenario testing various parts of the project plan that are out of your control or partially out of your control and building in margins of safety in case things go wrong. With larger projects, the unexpected will nearly always happen in some way. Being prepared for this and giving yourself space to deal with these challenges when setting your goals and when giving direction to teams will enable you and your team to be more successful.
Plan for change and uncertainty as best you can.
Trust the team and verify when giving direction to team members
If you don’t trust your team members, then they will figure this out and their motivation, happiness and productivity will plummet. This absolutely does not help you.
So what is the best and quickest way of working out if you can trust team members? Don’t wait until completion day of a project or task. Pop round to see them periodically and get them to show you how they are doing. Does what you see tally with what they are telling you? If yes, then great – trust is being built and you may not need to pop round as much.
If not, they you have the chance to help them get back on track and recalibrate what they are telling you. You may need to pop round to see them more often.
When you do pop round, don’t go round to check up on them. Go round to help them, support them, and see if there is anything they need. This mindset is important. You will still get to see exactly what you need if you ask in the right way. And they will feel you are there to help them do a good job, not check up on them. This is important.
Don’t say “ Tell me where you have got to with project x”, ask “What can I do to help you to deliver project X?” or “Would you mind quickly showing me where you are and talk me through your biggest challenges so I can work out how best to support you?”
Trust your team. Build that trust by getting to know each person and their strengths and follow-up periodically to see where you can best help them.
Praise and positive reinforcement – it works!
There are so many ways you can use praise to encourage the right behaviours from your team members and to get them to help you give better direction to your team members
Praise them for:
- a good idea provided
- a challenge that pushed the team to think more deeply about the problem or exposed a risk not considered
- Praise them for a piece of work that delivered the results quicker or better than expected
- Praise them for supporting their colleagues
- For showing the right behaviours for team success
There are so many things to praise. When you do praise, make sure the action or behaviour is worthy of praise. i.e. be sincere and honest in your praise.
Praise privately. Praise publicly. Use prizes. Get your imagination into gear and think of the different ways you can celebrate different types of successes.
I am not suggesting you only praise, nor that you don’t have the difficult conversations when you need to. Praise more than you criticise, and you are more likely to have a happy team that partners with you making your job a lot easier.
In my experience, the better you set direction, the more likely the team will reach the goals agreed. This helps you, the team, and the company.
Not matter where you are in your management career, keep working on improving your direction setting skills.
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