How do you sustain momentum as a team leader in practice? This is the exact question that I launched a few weeks ago on LinkedIn Q&A (*). What I received was excellent advice from hands-on people all over the world. Below you will find a summary of the responses clustered, distilled and filtered with a little help of good old management theory.
Over the past hundred years or so I don’t believe the recipe to successful management has changed that much. Every business student and scholar comes across the name of Henri Fayol at least once in their career. Fayol (1841-1925) is a French engineer, who is one of the founding fathers of modern management theory, together with Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford (although we spend lots of time arguing that these theories are outdated and bad instead of shedding some light on the context and the time-frame).
When scanning the answers of this non-scientific survey it occurred to me that the broad categories as summarized in Fayol’s Famous Five still apply when it comes to this century’s practice:
- plan (and look ahead),
- control (feedback and inspect)
This is what it all comes down to according to Fayol. Now let’s investigate how these categories are flavored in down-to-earth practice of the year 2007.
Plan (Look ahead)
It is funny to observe that the majority of the contributors indicates that it is important to get some basics right from the beginning. I am pretty sure that most of the following contributions align with what Fayol, Ford and Taylor had in mind when they theorized about planning:
- Make sure that the work is planned with clear deliverables and dates.
- If the leader allows people to get lost in the trees and lose that forest view it’s hard to keep momentum up.
- Is the route to the goal broken down into time periods of 5 days or less (with defined deliverables) and phases of 30 days or less (all working days)?
- Does everyone know what is expected of them?
- Is success clearly defined?
- Goal setting for your team, for yourself.
- Set the expectation that the goals set should be achieved to a reasonable level, including your own goals.
- Make the goals and the steps to reach them crystal clear. Best when they are 1) understood 2) agreed to by all 3) attainable.
- Be thoughtful but allow no “analysis paralysis.”
The way I would summarize this list in 2007-language is through following phrase: “Manage expectations about your team”
I had no trouble distilling contributions that fall under this category either. Here is what the contributors came up with:
- Post the schedule and chart progress. Team member names optional. Peer pressure works.
- Before one can sustain momentum one must first build the best team possible and get them moving. A weak team member will undermine the progress, cause resentment, and may even sow discontent. Another contributor stated it even stronger by saying: “Separate out those who won’t from those who can’t – and get rid of the former while helping the latter.”
- If there is large list of tasks, be sure to set priority to the most urgent tasks, let them some freedom to decide the others.
- Be a Buffer. Protect team members from organizational poachers who want to pick off your team members for other projects.
- Make sure that the team has the right mix of skills. Look out for personality issues.
To me, they all seem to fall under the umbrella-phrase: “Getting it right from the start”.
Contrary to what I would expect in the year 2007, the opinions that fall under this category are abundant. Even if the word ‘command’ sounds somewhat military – and therefore unpopular nowadays – the contributors did not beat about the bush.
- The single most important thing to sustaining momentum is to make decisions.
- As the “leader” you must, well lead. As one of the contributors stated: ‘It’s all about greasing the path forward!’. He continued: ‘With a good tight team behind you making sure that they are dealing with the lose twines a leader leaves in his or her ‘wake’ you can concentrate on pushing forward.’
- Be decisive but not dictatorial.
- Get the work done – and have fun: the two are not mutually exclusive!
- Be a buffer between the team and “management speak”
- Be their advocate to the outside world
- When unanticipated problems occur, engage the team to find the solution. They advise, you decide.
- Give them a mission, allow them to manage the path to it giving guidance/support where required.
- Every person is different in a team and needs a personal approach, some people need to be chased, some don’t.
- Deal with problems when they are small don’t wait till they become monsters
- Listen to your stakeholders and your team and trust your own judgment.
- When an individual is ahead of schedule, send them home.
Like me, you may wonder why the ‘command’ category still takes center stage in the habits of these effective people, whilst being totally absent in the list of Stephen Covey (**). Did Covey miss a blind spot here? Now that is a daunting question in 2007!
Yet another discipline of management that is a blind spot to many an author in the business arena. I am glad to see that ‘getting it done’ is not forgotten about in 2007 by our pragmatic contributors.
- Trust the team to deliver
- Everyone on the team must participate in the planning and agree on the results.
- Individuals perform the best when they can connect all the dots between their activities and the overall impact of performing them.
- Don’t waste the teams time and energy with non-productive meetings.
- Laud the small stuff. Small steps are better than big ones by far, so when your team makes small measurable headway, shout it from the rooftops, make your team know that their small efforts are recognized as well as the large ones.
- Accolades focused on the fire fighters can start to slow the momentum of the balance of the team trying to be planful and execute.
- A dashboard of some kind so that the team can see progress, speed, warnings, etc.
- Frequent team touch-points (notice I did not say “meetings”)
- Celebrate milestones reached
To me the best way to summarize this list is through the word participation (which is less far-fetched and less charged with zillion interpretations than ‘empowerment’).
Control (Feedback and Inspect)
The final discipline according to Fayol is ‘control’ – another word with a military connotation. However, let’s have a look at the results before making any judgement:
- Open communication between your team and yourself goes a long way. As one contributor put it: “I can’t understand the secretive manager! He or she fails every time, but I can say I’ve seen them in almost every organization I’ve been in.”
- Manage UP and DOWN- it’s a real demoralizer to your team to not know what’s happening above.
- Be open about performance – including your own. We all have good days and others!
- Communicate in a clear fashion.(what you expect, when, how)
- Establish checkpoint milestones for all major tasks every 2 weeks. Gather status every week.
- Never let a week go by without some one on one time with your team. Depending on your schedule you should have one on ones to air out the issues with your team. It’s a two way forum, don’t make it about just your wants and needs.
- I would give a big tip…DO NOT USE TRICKS, period. [Note: the original question stated: ‘looking for tips and tricks’]
- Never lie to the team.
- What works is […] subordinating opinions to facts and figures, experimentation without fear of failure
- Just be yourself mate that is enough to motivate a team 😉
- Specifically be with your team in person frequently communicate
When I look at what the contributors have to say about control, what stand out is the statement: “It’s not about you”, meaning that control is not about authority but rather about discipline and integrity.
Conclusion: nothing changes really…except for the food!
There is one particular thing that one will hardly find in the writings of the early management gurus, that is the recommendation to celebrate milestones with food. The number of food related suggestions is remarkable; ranging from a coffee from Starbucks to pizza and beer. As one contributor put it: “I get more value out of celebrating achieving a KPI with a barbeque than most of the other things I do”.
Anyway, while you are drinking your coffee or eating your sandwich as you are reading this, think about the parallels that I have drawn from this simple survey (and discover with me how much you can learn from a simple question posted on LinkedIn). When comparing Management Theory a Century Ago to Management Best Practice Now, this is how they map against one another:
Management Theory a Century Ago > Management Best Practice Now
Plan (and look ahead) >>> Manage expectations about your team
Organize >>> Get it right from the start
Command >>> Make decisions and be a buffer
Co-ordinate >>> Foster participation
Control (Feedback and Inspect) >>> Listen – it is not about you!
Surely, Fayol and his overseas friends Ford and Taylor could figure that one out by themselves about hundred years ago! It just makes me wonder whether I would classify the mindset of categorizing their theories under “Neanderthal-istic” as “a paradigm”, “a result of groupthink” or just another good old dogma sneaking into our classrooms and management literature? But then again, this was a non-scientific survey, so why let it bring us outside of our comfort zone? 😉
(*) LinkedIn is a business networking platform that allows you to ask questions to the community at large. The advantage of this feature is that you can consult people from a different time-zone and cultural background. As a result I received responses that I would not be able to obtain from my non-digital network of people in the same business with same mindset.
(**) Stephen Covey (1989) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People ISBN 0-7432-6951-9