Teamwork makes the dream work; There’s no ‘I’ in team; We rise by lifting others… There’s certainly no denying the emphasis of successful collaboration in business culture. Why then, does managing a team often feel like we’re attempting to herd cats?

Whether we’re new to leadership or have been in the role for many years, team management is arguably one of the more daunting and often stressful components of the position. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we’re finding it tough, let’s first make sure that we haven’t misunderstood what is expected of us.

It’s not about control

We all know why teamwork is important. One person cannot do everything, and it makes sense to divide tasks into simpler, specific duties that can be assigned to individuals. This also creates the opportunity for accountability and personal responsibility which has been shown to boost employee engagement and work satisfaction1.

However, when we’re in the business of managing others, it can be tempting to think that this means controlling others. After all, we need our team members to act in a certain way, say the right things and to follow instructions. But the danger here is that we resort to a parent-child relationship with our team. In the world outside of work, we have little, if any, experience of directing fellow adults. All our experience of being in charge of other humans is often limited to situations involving children. But infantilise your team at your peril. We need to consciously change our approach to one of support, rather than control.

Setting clear work expectations from the start is paramount (because people aren’t mind readers) but we then have to trust our team members to do the job they have been employed to do. With regular and active support, this approach lends itself to an adult-adult relationship where mutual trust flows naturally – and employees who feel trusted are more engaged at work and less likely to leave2.

What does support looks like?

What can be particularly frustrating is that the go-to solutions for improving teamwork – such as regular group meetings, team-building exercises and staff outings – are often nothing more than a mere fantasy in a practice environment. Just making sure that everyone gets a lunchbreak can feel like an exercise in itself. But don’t let this derail your efforts. There are still plenty of ways to create a positive team culture. Here are a few suggestions for busy practices:

  • Daily hospital rounds: Set a schedule every morning for the whole team (including at least one receptionist) to meet for ‘rounds’. Whilst a lengthy team meeting may feel unachievable, a daily routine of getting together for 15 minutes to discuss cases, schedules and any important client updates will improve team communication and the running of the day. Make it known that there is no such thing as a stupid question and encourage open dialogue and discussion. Everyone should feel comfortable in raising a concern without fear of penalty.
  • Regular management communication: They say that a lack of communication leaves too much room for the imagination, and this is never more important than at work. Quick, daily updates can be given at rounds and more long-term developments are perfect for a weekly staff newsletter. No time for the team to read emails? Print the newsletter out and stick it in the staff room. Don’t forget to include personal updates, too. Staff birthdays, completion of certificates, successful case outcomes – these can all be celebrated.
  • Develop in-house mentoring programmes: This can be particularly helpful for new employees, new graduates and those in a training position. Just be sure that the mentor is adept at coaching, or at least has the motivation to learn; otherwise, pools of micromanagement can develop without your realising. It’s also important that time is incorporated into the rota to allow for one-to-one training.
  • Delegate tasks, including the fun stuff: Do you find it hard to delegate? Maybe you feel you don’t have the time to train, or you would rather stay in complete control of the process. But trusting your team to take responsibility will improve their own leadership skills and job satisfaction. Don’t stop at the mundane either, assigning a team to be in charge of the Christmas party or a redecoration of the staff room can be fun, and takes a few jobs away from you.
  • Ensure communication is a two-way street: Make it known regularly that feedback, questions and issues can be brought to you as the team leader. Leave your office door open and make the effort to get to know your team members as individuals. If the relationship is already there, communication will happen effortlessly.

Address team conflict immediately

It is somewhat inevitable that conflict within the team will occur at some point, particularly in a high-pressured environment such as a working practice. What is important is that you are aware of any conflict and that it is dealt with quickly. If left to fester, a toxic working environment and blame culture will take up residence – leading to stress, bullying and, ultimately, staff resignations.

Some forms of conflict will be hard to ignore, but it is the insidious influence of under-the-radar incivility that is particularly damaging. Again, an open-door policy for communication is paramount. Your team have to feel comfortable coming to you about any forms of conflict, and to trust that you will do something about it. This may involve simply acting as a mediator whilst the conflicted parties talk through their differences, or it may involve a stronger approach. But, overall, a leader has to show that any form of incivility will not be tolerated.

Which bring us onto our final point – being a role model

The way you behave as a leader will trickle down to your team. You are ultimately going to set the benchmark as to what behaviour is deemed acceptable or unacceptable. This goes beyond just the standard of work – it’s also really important to model healthy behaviours such as having a lunchbreak, leaving on time (at least as much as possible) and dealing with stress in productive ways. We must also model how we want our team to communicate. It’s all too easy to forget basic courtesy once we are used to someone’s company, but it’s the little behaviours that will ultimately form the foundation of your practice culture – and how your team will communicate to clients.

Managing expectations – behaviours not personalities

It’s only natural to feel apprehensive about managing others, but we also need to manage our expectations. Leaders are not there to change personalities – many would debate this is inherently impossible – but we are there to manage behaviours. It is perfectly reasonable (and necessary) to expect a professional attitude at work, and here’s the thing – we’re all more likely to act with courtesy and civility at work when we’re happy. As a consumer, we can usually tell when someone in a client-facing role enjoys their work – we, quite simply, receive great service from them.

By prioritising a happy work culture and by changing our approach to one of support rather than control, we are truly acting as a leader and a positive role model.

References

  1. How Positive Accountability Can Make Employees Happier at Work (n.d.) https://www.inc.com/partners-in-leadership/how-positive-accountability-can-make-employees-happier-at-work.html
  2. Six reasons it pays to trust your employees (2019) https://www.ciphr.com/features/six-reasons-trust-employees/

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