3 Simple Tips To Get The Most Out Of Your Team

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

Last weekend, I was sipping coffee with one of my childhood friends when the seeds of this post were sown. This friend, let’s call him Nick, leads a 10-member design team at a well renowned publishing house. While we were deep in conversation about how good coffee is getting harder to find with each passing year, he suddenly switched to a more serious tone.

“Why is it that we can never design exactly what we envision in our head?”.

Slightly shocked by this sudden shift in tone, I took a moment before I responded:

“Our taste is why our work disappoints us. Somewhere at the back of our heads, we know we can do better than what we have done. And it takes years to fill this gap.”

For those of you who don’t know, this deep and very true sentiment has been previously stated much more eloquently by Ira Glass, the host and producer of the radio and television show This American Life. You can read the whole thing right here.

What started as a simple question soon turned into an hour long discussion on what can we do as team leaders so that the work our teams put out is as good as possible. And out came these 3 tips that will help your team deliver some really good work — and the best thing! These tips can be applied to any team. Let’s go!

Allow Mistakes To Happen

When we experience failure first-hand, we get better at identifying if we’re making the same mistake the second time around.

My first brush with this realization was back when I was a toddler. I had positioned myself on the kitchen sill next to the stove — on the stove was boiling pot of milk. Being of the inquisitive disposition that I still am, I extended my soft palms towards the smoldering pot when my mother cautioned me against it lest I burn myself. Never the one to do what I am told — I put both my palms on the surface of the pot and in return got first-degree burns all over my little fingers. Fast forward 26 years and I’m still vary of hot vessels.

We learn from our mistakes much faster than from instruction.

When your team or a team member makes a mistake, tell them “it happens. Just make sure it doesn’t happen again”. And then follow it up with “how do you plan on fixing it?”. This approach does two things.

Firstly, your team will respect you as a leader. You could’ve endlessly criticized your team for making a mistake. But you did not. You chose to be a bigger person and instead focused on correcting the mistake and overturning the damage it had done.

Secondly, and most importantly, your team will now forever be wary of making the same mistake again. They will able to better identify precursors to the mistake and will also know how to fix it, should it happen again.

Of course, as a leader, you also need to be mindful of the right time to let mistakes happen. If your team is working on a make-or-break task, it’s better to take control and take pre-emptive measures to make sure nothing goes wrong. But if it’s something not that significant and can easily be corrected, let your team stumble. Help them pick themselves up and witness them never falling on the same hurdle again.

Promote A Culture of Curiosity

This is one of the most valuable tips you can master as a team leader. If you manage to foster a culture of learning and curiosity, half of your job is done. Team members who look for answers themselves when they are facing tough tasks rather than their team leader will always have an advantage when it comes to dealing with challenges.

In any team facing an uphill battle, two types of people emerge — those whose first step is to reach out to the leader and ask him/her what to do. And those who expend their energy trying to find a chink in the armor of the metaphorical “problem demon”. 9 times out of 10, the team members that belong to the second group might exhaust themselves and find themselves crawling back to the leader for answers. But the first kind will be begging for your help 10 times out of 10, 100 times out of 100, 1000 times out of 1000.

So, how to achieve this? How to promote a culture of “try always, fail often, succeed sometimes” in your team?

It all starts with hiring the right kind of people. If you’re someone who has a say in your team’s hiring process, make sure each of your team members is innately curious.

Hiring a group of Yes Men is the shortest route to producing mediocre work.

Hire people who question the status quo, who question you, who question the traditional way of doing things. Those who zag when everyone else zigs win in life.

Now this doesn’t mean that you can’t foster curiosity amidst your current team. Start by making your team members reach the answers rather than straight up telling them what you want to see. You know the answer — now all you have to do is to guide your team towards it by asking questions that unravel why they should go for the desired option rather than the one they have chosen.

Lastly, provide them appropriate resources that enable them to practice satiating their curiosity. Offer them a chance to opt-in on online courses, send them links to useful articles, recommend books. And always remember, if you have a team of 10 people, each one of them will react on different levels to this effort of yours, don’t get disheartened if the progress is slow. If you manage to make even one of your team member more curious than they were before, you’ve won.

You Did Good; We Failed.

This unusually cryptic tip is a practice in self-restraint and taking the backseat. Following closely from “allowing your team to make mistakes”, this tip is all about letting your team bask in the glory of success while also shielding them from overly excessive backlash when they miss the mark.

Protect your team in public, correct them in private.

As a leader, the absolute worst thing you can do is throw your team under the bus in the event of a failure. The only way this can get worse is if every time your team does something good, the only words that come out of your mouth speak of how great a boss you are — how you made this happen, how your genius saved your team. Even if it was all you, saying it out loud in front of your team never works well.

Every time your team does something good, take the backseat and let them taste the sweet nectar of success.

This way, your team knows you’ve got their backs and they will work on their tasks with the enthusiasm of a hungry predator. So go make your team get them, Tiger!!

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