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5 Ways for New Managers to Improve Team Performance

Improve Team Performance

When you’re a new manager, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been suddenly plopped into an unfamiliar world. There are more stakeholders and priorities to juggle, more meetings to attend, and more feedback to give and receive.

It is a lot to keep track of. But you can master the new responsibilities and make a big impact on your team by focusing on a few key areas. Here are five ways for new managers to improve team performance:

New managers tend to want to improve team performance by working with individuals. They ask for a one-on-one meeting with each team member and try to come up with goals for how the person can improve their performance. This is almost always the wrong approach. Individual performance improvement is less important than group dynamics, and that’s where you need to focus your attention first.

How do you improve the whole team’s performance?

The first thing is to ensure that all members feel they have a stake in the project. If they don’t, they will not be motivated and will not work hard. We think that money is not usually the problem. But having a good idea of what they will be doing can help. So, start by discussing and then making clear exactly what their task will be. Ask them how they feel about it and if they think it is achievable. 

Make sure that everyone is happy with all aspects of the assignment and then ask them if there are any questions or concerns that need to be addressed before you start. Each person should feel able to contribute ideas and suggestions, so make sure that everyone has an opportunity to speak. Encourage them to ask questions if they do not understand something, so that they can work together to resolve any problems or issues before starting work on the project itself.

Next, make sure each individual knows how well he/she is doing relative to others in terms of performance (as measured by whatever metrics seem appropriate). Imagine the best team you’ve ever been on.

What made it great?

That’s a question we have asked dozens of teams over the past few months. Most of them have struggled to answer it. The ones that did usually said something about the members’ mutual respect for each other.

Some of them mentioned having fun together. A few cited their shared passion for their mission as a company or product. But no one mentioned anything about the work they were doing. That’s a problem. 

Only by understanding what makes an effective team, in general, can you hope to build one in particular — whether it’s a new start-up or a division within your existing company. And while there are several good books on teams, they tend to focus on group dynamics and soft skills like communication and trust-building, which are important but insufficient for creating great teams that perform well together.

Every team has its own character, and what works for one may not work for another. But here are some general guidelines:

  • Make sure your team is small enough to run effective meetings. For most teams, that means no more than five or six people.
  • If you’re not the founder or CEO of a company, make sure the CEO is on board with your mission as a team. If necessary, write up a brief memo explaining what you’re trying to do and why.
  • Pick a good name for your team, something that captures both the substance of what you’re doing and its spirit. Even if your group never becomes famous outside your company, choosing a good name will remind you to live up to it.
  • Write down the actual mission of your group in a sentence or two and post it somewhere visible. Don’t just assume people know what it is; make sure they do.
  • Make sure everyone on the team knows how to read all relevant documents from other teams (and vice versa). As much as possible, use everyday English, not jargon or technical language (though if there’s an acronym everyone uses, it’s OK to use that). 
  • Observe and understand the group dynamics.

People are social animals, and work is fundamentally a group activity. If you’re trying to improve performance, it’s important to understand how people interact as a group. It’s helpful to get away from your desk and regularly observe how people interact in various settings like meetings or lunchtime. You’ll learn about internal politics, how information flows (or doesn’t flow), and other valuable insights that will help you manage the team more effectively.

  • Ask them what they think

New managers sometimes forget that team members have valuable insights and can help solve problems. It’s important to solicit team input regularly. For example, if you’ve accepted a new position and must complete a major project by the end of the year try asking your team how they would approach it. The discussion will give you insight into how your team thinks and it will also help them feel more engaged with the project. In addition, you’ll likely generate new ideas that you may never have thought about on your own!

  • Develop your people

Many new managers are so focused on driving results that they forget about developing the people on their teams. Although business results are important, developing your people is critical to long-term success because it helps drive engagement while also ensuring a pipeline of leaders for the future.

  • Listen more, talk less

New managers often feel pressure to prove themselves, so they try to sound smart and decisive by talking a lot. However, this can intimidate team members and make them afraid to speak up.

  • Don’t take credit for your team’s work

If your team does a great job on a project, don’t take the credit for yourself. Share the praise with your team members. This will encourage them to keep working hard for you.

For further information on productivity and teamwork, visit RisePath PlanCentral.