When it comes to motivating your team you're pretty confident you have the basics down. You trust and appreciate them, offer feedback and career development, communicate the value of the work they do, and even ensure they take time to recharge and avoid burnout. But even good managers always have room for improvement.
Just ask Teju Ravilochan, co-founder and CEO of the Unreasonable Institute, who recently went looking for ways to do an even better job of bringing out the best in his team, searching out criticism so he could further tune up his leadership abilities. He wrote up what he learned on the Unreasonable Institute blog, inspiring me to scour the web for other great tidbits of advice on the topic. Here are some of the best and least expected, including one from Ravilochan:
1. Take a leap of faith
The surest way to bring out the best in your team is to believe the best of them. That means starting with the assumption that they're going to rock every assignment, even if there's no evidence yet to support that optimism.
It might be scary, but “giving teammates license they haven't previously had or giving them a task they haven't proven they can do yet,” is essential according to Ravilochan. “You want people who punch above their weight class on your team anyway. That means trusting them with things you don't know they can do yet, reserving judgment, and then giving them honest feedback,” he explains.
2. Tap into everyone's knowledge
In a fair world, who we listen to would be based on who had the most relevant information. In the real world, it's often the loudest person who dominates a discussion, not the most knowledgable. Needless to say this stifling of quieter (but more expert) contributors can be pretty discouraging for a team.
Recent research offers a suggestion to help avoid this problem, bringing out the best in your team no matter their comfort level with shouting over loudmouths. “Early in a task, team members should be encouraged to discuss the relevant knowledge each brings to the table. In a series of lab experiments, groups that underwent this intervention outperformed other groups,” the study authors wrote on the HBR blogs. More details on exactly how to accomplish this in the post.
3. Separate idea generation and idea evaluation
From the perspective of an individual contributor, among the most deflating experiences in the world is getting yourself excited about a new idea only to have it inexplicable ignored. Management's perspective is more complicated, however. You want to empower your team to innovate, but on the other hand, you also need to rigorously evaluate new ideas. How do you balance the need to encourage creativity with the need to be picky about which ideas you implement?
Writing on Lifehack, executive coach Ricky Nowak offers some advice. “Don't make the common mistake of mixing idea generation and idea evaluation,” she says. At the idea generation stage, there are no bad ideas and quantity is more important than quantity. Idea evaluation “focuses on working with the pool of generated ideas and evaluating their positives and negatives, trying to figure out if an idea is feasible.” Keep these stages apart or risk sinking your team's enthusiasm for innovation.
Another idea to accomplish the same goal? Stanford GSB professor Jonathan Bender suggests “a formal rubric, or scoring system, where their ideas are graded on various dimensions, such as technical merit and market potential.” This keeps things objective and impersonal while offering actionable feedback.
4. Work yourself out of a job
Nearly every expert agrees that to bring out the best in your people, you need to help them grow in their jobs and develop new skills. Sometimes that's scary as it means, essentially, training your team to do parts of your own job, or alternately, letting them learn to do things way beyond your own abilities. Embrace this reality even if it makes you nervous, argues one article on the subject from London Business School.
“One useful way of approaching a management job is to imagine that the role won't exist in, say, two years' time and that your job is to train everyone so that they can do your job as well as their own. Doing that encourages you to hire and promote the best people. It forces you to question why you do certain things at all, and it inspires you to delegate many of your tasks to the people working for you,” it explains.
5. Banish your biases
Think you're free of unconscious preferences and irrational pet peeves? Think again. Everyone has them and left unexamined they can be highly de-motivating for your team. The trick according to Forbes contributor Bruce Kasanoff is to take the time to understand (and correct for) your own biases.
“Each of us has certain attitudes and biases that prevent us from seeing the truth. The better we understand them, the better we can make adjustments. For example, if you tend to be a planner, you might think that an employee behaves rashly because she invests little time in planning; but the reality may be that she is better than you at thinking or her feet,” he writes.