Over the last several decades, the nature of work for many people has shifted from assembly line manufacturing to collaborative knowledge work. We are no longer an economy driven by raw production requiring a large quantity of manual labor. We are an economy of ideas and innovation where a small team of highly skilled experts can create enormous value by leveraging technology and networks.
The most valuable companies innovate by developing software, algorithms, connections, and intellectual assets. The challenge with this new type of business is that raw talent is not the only requirement for success. It takes teamwork and collaboration to create these sophisticated solutions.
As a business coach, helping companies rethink their approaches to how they design and manage teams is one of my main areas of focus. Gone are the days when managers lay out a defined work process and then focus on getting their people to follow standard operating procedures. Today's companies are based on self-managed teams with high degrees of autonomy.
For many executives, managing these types of teams is a challenge. Traditional management techniques don't work; in fact, they can hurt the success of a team. Here are five techniques I suggest that managers of modern, high-performance teams use to help them be more successful.
1) Set clear outcomes
The first thing you can do as a team manager is to set clear goals and objectives. Defining the desired outcome and work product will help a team understand where they need to go and what they need to do. By articulating good success criteria, you help evaluate their strategies and tasks and understand what will work, and what won't. Without clear outcomes, a team will struggle to decide what to focus on and increase conflict around the right approach.
2) Clarify boundaries
Once you've set a clear understanding of the final end state of the project, you then need to set the boundaries that the team needs to operate within. Don't overcomplicate these: focus on the hard edges the team needs to stay within. These could be dates, budgets, or tools/technologies that they need to either use or not use. Leave everything else up to the team and let them decide how to get it done.
3) Highlight success
Many managers love to give their teams critical feedback and focus on digging into problems and things that didn't go well. While it's important to reflect and retrospect, focusing on problems will demotivate the team and only draw more attention to the ways not to do things.
Instead, focus your time and energy on the things that went right and are going well. Catch them when they do something successfully, and reflect on what led to a positive result and how the team can leverage their learning to create even more success.
4) Don't interrupt
One of the worst things you can do as a manager is to interrupt a team in flow. Modern teams are engaged in complex and dynamic tasks. It can take a long time for a team to get into the zone and fully immerse itself in their work. Asking questions, getting updates, and making suggestions when a team is in the zone will disrupt the process, which can take hours to rebuild.
Instead, set up a time at the beginning and/or end of the day for check-ins and discussion. For the rest of the time, the best thing you can do as a manager is to protect the team from external distractions. Set up systems and policies that allow the team to have sustained periods of focused time.
5) Remove roadblocks
While a high-performance team is self-managing and can handle their own processes and workflow, they always operate within a larger company context. This can create external obstacles and friction. As a team manager, one of your most important jobs is to remove these blocks for your team. Find out what external forces are holding a team back and use your clout and organizational power to make things easy for the team to be effective.
As the nature of work in companies becomes more complicated and organizations become more team-based, these leadership skills will increase in demand. Effective leaders who know how to create and support high-performance teams will thrive in the future world of business. And companies that develop and promote these types of leaders will quickly become leaders in their own markets.