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Team management skills - Mastering these skills will make you an outstanding leader

The core team management skills
Tags: leadership
Categories: WorkForce Management
Blaz Kos
17 minute read

Behind every notable business endeavor stands an exceptional team. Thus, no resource in an organization is more powerful than a high-performance team. 

In today’s complex, saturated, and fast-changing world; teams, not individuals, are the ones winning the most important battles in business.

An exceptional team does not just happen by itself. Such a team must be diligently built and managed, by none other than an exceptional leader. 

There are almost no exceptional teams (except some very rare self-organizing teams), which are not led by outstanding leaders.

In this article we will take a deep dive into the key team-management skills every leader must master. These are also more or less the skills that are essential in every team member. 

First, we will look at a few basic skills, such as organizational and communication skills, and then we will upgrade these basic skills with advanced team-management skills, which are much harder to practice, but even more important to master. 

Let’s start.

Five basic team management skills – the building blocks of outstanding teamwork

1. Organizational skills – The basics of high-performance teams

A highly-effective team is a highly-organized team. Consequently, one of the most important set of team management skills are organizational skills. 

Every team needs a structure, a strategic plan with clear objectives, a realistic implementation plan, a set of rules and processes to follow, and a leader who allocates resources, sets the priorities, and makes sure the tasks are getting done.

Thus, every leader must excel at planning, organizing, delegating tasks (to the right person), motivating team members, and keeping an eye on the goals and deadlines to be met. 

Part of team organization is organizing regular meetings, such as planning meetings, reflection and review meetings, brainstorming meetings, and so on. 

There should be just the right number of meetings, with a clear agenda. SCRUM workflow provides one of the best frameworks for managing team dynamics with a pre-set meeting structure and agenda.

An important fact in this regard is that everything starts with a leader being highly organized himself. It’s almost impossible to build a highly-effective team if the leader is a mess. 

The first team management skill is thus to excel at self-management. If you want to learn more about that, read our article: How to become a highly-organized manager.

2. Time management - Be the guardian of your time and the time of your team

Time management is a subcategory of organizational skills, but definitely deserves its own chapter. Time is a very scarce resource that must be spent wisely on a daily basis. 

An effective leader is thus extremely cautious as to how they spend time, and equally important is how time of their team is being spent. Effective leaders are the guardians of their own time and time of their team members.

An important role of every team leader (and team member) is to help create an environment where people can work in peace. Leaders shouldn’t be the ones constantly interrupting their people, but rather making sure they can do deep work, create real value and waste no time. 

The key time-management skills that come into play when we talk about team management are, at the minimum: 

  • Setting priorities correctly
  • Saying no to things that are not important
  • Delegating and outsourcing tasks
  • Eliminating unnecessary distractions and interruptions
  • Running productive meetings
  • Eliminating all waste and having an organized space
  • Respecting work limitations and making sure employees keep a healthy work-life balance

When it comes to time management, an important fact to remember is that only what you measure, can you really manage. Many leaders employ a project time tracking solution (like My Hours) for themselves and the team. 

It’s the best way to make sure no time goes to waste. Additionally, every team member is automatically more productive and focused on the important tasks when their time needs to be tracked.

3. Emotional intelligence – Creating a safe and integrative environment

Emotional intelligence (EQ) means an ability to perceive, understand, use and manage one’s emotions and the emotions of others – in our case, team members. 

Emotional intelligence is a mandatory team management skill, because high EQ usually leads to the creation of a healthy working environment, where people feel safe, appreciated, and noteworthy. 

Only an emotionally-intelligent leader can create an environment where people flourish. Only an emotionally-intelligent leader knows the value of having a clear answer to the question of why the team even exists (a great leader always starts with Why).

Emotional intelligence is a basis for awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and motivation. It’s a social skill that enables a leader to connect with other people on a deeper level. Thus, an emotionally-intelligent leader has a feeling for when someone needs to be encouraged and when boundaries to toxic behavior must be set. 

An emotionally-intelligent leader has an ability to motivate on individual level based on personal motivators, but also to bring people together and build a strong team spirit.

If you are interested in how leaders with high IQ, but low EQ usually function, feel free to read more in our article: 8 types of toxic leaders.

4. Effective communication – Communication among the team must flow and be clear

The foundation of every great team is effective communication, and a team leader must be the one to encourage the right kind of communication. 

First of all, communication among team members must be frequent enough - on individual and group level. A great team leader makes sure people take enough time to strengthen relationships with communication that results in real teamwork.

Besides frequency, clarity and quality of communication are also essential. First there’s clarity. We often assume that our message was clear enough when we communicate, where in reality the receiving party understood our words completely differently. 

There are many tools that can help us communicate in a clear way, from writing down the definition of work done, to asking people to paraphrase what we said, to providing visual support materials that corroborate our words.

Last but not least, is the quality of our communication. Creating a positive atmosphere when starting to communicate, keeping the right tone of voice and open body language, and being honest and candid but still respectful, are all things that contribute to the quality of our communication. 

Not to mention, a leader must help their team to constructively solve conflicts, where, again, communication is the key. Without effective communication a team can rarely productively work together. 

There’s usually a lot of confusion, no clear direction, problems get swept under the rug, and people get bitter. There’s no information flow, no constructive criticism and improvement, and no openness or honest brainstorming.

When we talk about communication, there’s one more thing to emphasize. We all like some people more than others. That happens in our personal and professional life. 

Nevertheless, blunt favoritism is usually extremely frustrating in any team. Thus, an important team-management skill is to stay professional in every situation, namely by being fair and keeping the same standards for all team members.

5. Coaching and team development – see and unleash the potential in team members

Great leaders are always also great coaches and this has been proven by several different pieces of leadership research. As well as this, great team members help to elevate other team members. 

They all bring the best out in each other. Thus, an important team management skill is to be able to develop other team members. And if you are a team leader, coaching team members must be one of your priorities.

If we go a step further, as a team leader you must know the strengths and weaknesses of your team members. You also must have a clear idea as to where each team member has the greatest potential. 

Based on mapping of strengths, weaknesses, and potentials, you should prepare development plans on an individual and team level, and then make sure the plan is executed and people actually grow.

Another important part of team development and effective communication is giving constructive feedback. Without regular feedback, team members rarely have an idea whether they’ve done an awesome job or not, and where they could improve. 

So, after every bigger task is completed, don’t forget to give honest feedback, praising the good work, and sharing ideas on where things could have been done better.

Ten advanced team management skills – skills only the best master

1. Always lead by example

As a team leader, you always have to lead by example. Never manage a team only with formal authority and a formal position. 

You can’t expect others to do what you yourself aren’t. Always practice what you preach. Other members of your team don’t pay as much attention to what you say as to what you actually do.

If you have a messy desk, they will have a messy desk, if you’re always late, they will be always late, and so on. No matter what you say to them and no matter what you have written down in your strategy book, what you do is the standard for other people’s behavior.

So, you have to start implementing any change on a personal level first. Another important fact is that if you expect other people to do things that you aren’t practicing, they will see you as a hypocrite and someone with double standards. 

If you don’t lead by example, team members will start investing more energy into gossiping, office politics, and other unproductive behaviors, than into performing.

2. Treat others as you want to be treated

You should always treat others like you want to be treated. That means in a fair, respectful, and integrative manner. 

Your team members will only show you respect if you show respect to them. That doesn’t mean you always have to be nice and agree with everything. You should also be extremely honest (the so-called radical candor).

Treat others like you want to be treated. If you want all team members to work constructively with you, you must work constructively together with every single one of them. If you want them to share ideas with you, you have to contribute and share your ideas. If you don’t want them to gossip, you mustn’t gossip. If you want other members to be honest with you, you have to be honest.

By default, people are very forgiving towards themselves and extremely critical of other people. Don’t do that. Be honest with yourself and be honest with other people. 

Have the same standards for yourself as you have for others. And if they underperform, help them get better. That’s the really hard part of team management.

3. Practice mutual respect every day. Work together as a team.

Respect is the fundamental value of productive teams. Respect and trust. You should always respect other people and demand that other people respect you and other team members. 

You have to accept that different people have different values, beliefs, experiences and ideas. Combining different views and angles enables real creativity. Therefore, respect diversity in people and strive to work together and create something new.

You can immediately notice an outstanding team, much like you can notice an outstanding leader. An outstanding leader or an outstanding team is like beauty. 

It’s hard to define it, but you recognize it immediately when you see it. Even if it is hard to define, one thing is for sure, an outstanding team simply respects and trusts one another when they work together.

4. Create a tolerant environment

If individuals, teams or the whole organization want to strive towards constant improvement, you need a very tolerant environment. In order to be creative and find new ways to do things, you have to connect yet-unseen patterns.

To do that, you have to be tolerant towards the unknown, and towards different out-of-the-box ideas. If you want to be tolerant towards different views, you also have to be tolerant towards everything (except intolerance) – different religions, cultures, values, views, “stupid ideas”, etc. 

Creative environments are always tolerant environments.

There’s another reason why the presence of tolerance is mandatory. You have to be tolerant towards failure if you want teams to improve. Finding new ways to do things also means failing when searching for those new ways. Failure is always an integral part of success and progress.

If an environment is tolerant enough, people aren’t afraid to try new things and they aren’t afraid to fail - as individuals or teams. 

And even when people fail in a tolerant environment, they keep the motivation to continue innovating, because they weren’t punished. Usually, they continue innovating all the way until they really find a better way to do things.

Make sure that tolerance is an important value in the teams you build, manage or participate in. Tolerance towards different ideas and failures among team members will motivate all the members to try new things, become better and better as individuals, and improve the team as a whole.

Being able to create a tolerant and transparent team environment is one of the most important team-management skills. It takes a lot of effort and practice to develop, but it really makes a difference.

5. Focus on the solutions, not on blame

Pointing fingers rarely leads to any constructive debate or improvement, even if it is legitimate. It’s much better and smarter to focus on solutions than on blame, especially on topics such as how to improve processes and company culture, or how to develop people so performance will be better.

You should expect yourself and all team members not to point fingers, but instead dedicate every single atom of mental energy to searching for and creating better solutions. 

All you have to say is that no blame is allowed, and focus should be place on finding the best solution.

6. It’s the process, not the people

One approach that will significantly help you avoid blame in teams is immediately focusing on the process when discussing the problem, especially how things are currently done, what the underlying rules are, and how they could be improved. 

Look for flaws in the system, and remember that the process isn’t bulletproof, instead of focusing on how someone made a mistake; because people always make mistakes, no matter how good they are. Well- designed and managed processes can minimize the mistakes.

A good technique that can help you with that is the 5 Whys technique, which is a system where you define the problem and then ask yourself “why?” five times to lead you to the core of the issue (you can read more about the technique in our blog post).

7. Improvement is not made in a conference room

This one is simple. It’s so easy to moralize, talk about theoretical solutions, defend your point of view and so on, and it’s so hard to really implement change and bring results to the table. The fact is that improvements are not made in a conference room, but with immediate implementation.

You don’t want to just debate about change over and over again and get stuck in the analysis-paralysis syndrome, or measure the power of rhetoric, as often happens in political debates. 

You have to be eager to get out of the conference room and start implementing change in the real environment, based on validated learning, as soon as possible. 

Don’t just moralize; brainstorm, analyze, and talk. Be a doer and encourage your team members to be doers.

8. What’s said in the room stays in the room

If you want to get good ideas, there must be some friction. There must be different views, there must be different values, and there must be passionate debate. 

No friction, no progress, no improvements. Only a healthy level of conflict can lead to creating new and better things.

Thus, you shouldn’t be afraid of conflict if it happens in a respectful and adult way, with the final goal of bringing out the best ideas possible. Therefore, what’s said in the room stays in the room-no hard feelings. 

Honesty must always be an important team value, but it has to be presented in a respectful manner.

There’s one more important fact to bear in mind when we’re talking about passionate debates and arguing in order to bring out the best ideas. Always put data before rhetoric. 

It’s not about opinions, it’s not about assumptions or egos or who is better with words; it’s about finding new ways to do things better by experimenting, testing, and trying and measuring in real life. You can improve only what you can measure. 

So, focus on the data, and not on how good different team members are at making their point.

9. Never leave in silent disagreement. Speak out if you disagree.            

This rule is closely connected to the previous one. The worst thing you can do is to not speak out when you don’t agree with a solution.

What most often happens in that kind of a situation, is that your negative feelings start to grow, and consequently you start sabotaging the implementation of the solution, often even on a subconscious level. You start gossiping, spreading your fears and doubts to other people, and so on. Or, you might become a bitter and cynical person. 

The disagreement you didn’t express becomes a cancer to change.

Therefore, an extremely important team-management skill is to be able to speak out if you disagree, if you have a bad feeling about something, or if there’s an alternative route which you see and others don’t. 

Always have the courage to express your feelings and opinions. Never leave in silent disagreement, because in that case you’ll only awaken the emotional monster in yourself, which will grow bigger and stronger and find a way to sabotage any progress in the implementation phase.

10. Share the success and display team results publicly

All the major goals a team achieves should be publicly displayed. These goals should be a reminder of the positive and tolerant culture that’s cultivated among team members who are striving for constant progress and improvement. 

Improving isn’t an easy task, so you should be proud of every small advancement you make and show it to people. This is not to brag, but to encourage people to be great team workers, oriented towards achieving goals and nurturing good relationships among team members.

When you publicly show the results, make sure that you share the success with every single person who deserves the credit. Everyone involved, everyone who contributed to achieving the goal in the smallest way should also be rewarded and share the credit. It brings people together and motivates them. 

Unfairness is the thing people hate the most, so always make sure you share the success fairly.

As a team, you should always have small celebration rituals for every success that you achieve - rituals that bring people together and additionally motivate them towards further change and improvement. To keep relationships strong, deep, and trustworthy, share the success and enjoy the victory rituals with your team.

Never forget that a skill is something that can be easily learned. So, prepare yourself a plan on how you as a leader will develop the aforementioned team-management skills. 

Some of them are easier to master than others, but over years you can definitely perfect them, and thus excel as a team leader.

Good luck with developing your team management skills! And if you want to learn even more, read our top five tips on how to manage a small team.

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