Illustration of a group of work colleaguesSince one of the areas of focus for this blog is successful, positive leadership, I wanted to take some time to speak to you about basic, practical ways to bring out the best in your team members and improve communication.

1. Align duties to strengths

When assigning tasks to team members, make sure that you first understand each person on your team. We all have different personalities; some are introverts, others extroverts; there are people who are very verbal and assertive and those who are quiet individuals, preferring to listen than speak; also you find the methodical analytical types who differ widely from the free-flowing, creative thinkers. If you get to select the members of your team, try to assemble a group of individuals with different approaches and personalities. When the group is formed, whether you selected the members yourself or not, take the time to observe and get to know the strengths and weaknesses of your team members and then assign duties that match their perceived strengths.

Sometimes you may realize that the person is not as good in one area as you thought or others may surprise you with abilities you weren’t expecting – be prepared to readjust your expectations and modify your delegation of duties, as necessary and appropriate for the project stage that you are in.

Remember, while it is sometimes good to test the waters or challenge team members by giving them assignments that don’t seem like a natural fit, going against the grain of an individual’s skill-set, talent and personality may result in sub-par performance, or even worse, push-back from the team member.

2. Take time for one-on-one feedback

Don’t get caught up in the simplistic analysis of a timeline. Leaders may fall into the trap of thinking that if everything is going according to schedule then everything is o.k. However, this is a superficial way of thinking and not a thorough assessment of the work process. A true leader goes deeper by improving employee morale and fostering a shared vision among members. Take the time to have personal conversations through face-to-face interaction, video-conferencing, or phone conversations. Try to avoid a simple “How is everything going?” email, since you want to have an honest, two-way dialogue that doesn’t just end in “Yes, everything is going well.” These more direct forms of communication allow you to hear the person’s tone of voice and with the first two methods, you have the added bonus of observing body language.

Use these times to learn more about how each person’s assignment is going. Get the team members’ personal opinions about their assigned tasks, what they expect the outcome of the task to be and what could be improved. As the team leader, you should be prepared to forgo your initial plans and alter them based upon this feedback if this will improve the outcome of the overall project.

However, remember don’t over-do these one-on-one feedback sessions, because it could be perceived as micro-managing by the team member. All members should be given some level of freedom in completing the assigned task and not feel that they are being interrogated or stifled by leadership.  And this brings us straight to the next point.

3. Don’t micro-manage

Make sure that your initial instructions are thorough and completely understood by the team members, including the times and situations for which they must consult you as leader. Afterward, give members a fair amount of freedom to make decisions and, depending on the situation and member’s level of expertise, you could even give them the authority to sign-off on certain aspects of the assignment. When team members believe they are not just followers but leaders in their own project areas, this encourages them to mentally take ownership of their work and exceed the minimum requirements.  Always remember your team members are professionals with their own areas of expertise and their own ideas and constructive opinions.

4. Don’t just look at the negative

As a busy team leader, you may be so focused on preventing mistakes, that you don’t take the time to give positive feedback to your team members. Along with identifying areas that require improvement, don’t neglect to commend members on their strengths. It is often this sense of making a meaningful contribution and being appreciated that gives members that extra motivation to keep doing a good job and to go above and beyond the basics.

5. Don’t get personal and be specific

When giving constructive criticism to your team members remember that old saying “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Do not make your criticisms personal. For example, if you’re critiquing someone’s graphic design work, don’t say, “I think you could choose a more appropriate colour scheme.” and “You could show more creativity with the logo.” Instead you could say, “The colour scheme could include brighter hues.” and “Try adding more creative design elements to the logo.” As you could see with these two examples, the latter comments omit the word “you” and do not call into question the team member’s personal judgement or abilities. Also, these comments are more specific than the former ones so the team member understands what you don’t like and has a better idea of how to improve.

If you have anymore suggestions on how to bring out the best in your team leave a comment for this article.

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