WORKPLACE / AUG. 22, 2014
version 4, draft 4

How to Help Your Staff Learn to Work out Issues Without Your Intervention

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One of the important skills that sets apart the most effective leaders from managers still learning their craft, is the ability to develop a self directing team. In this case, team members will have the skills, confidence, drive and judgment to work out issues without your intervention, leaving you free to concentrate more of your time on the true work of a leader, setting and translating a vision, bringing on high potential staff, and building your business for the future in a dynamic way.

There is no single way to foster this team environment, and the best results will be achieved by the authentic leader who acts consistently to promote the problem solving abilities, cooperation and ambition of individuals in his team. If you are on the road to this productive team dynamic but have identified areas in which your team may be better able to work through issues without your involvement, such as the situations below, the following hints may help address them.

Problems with team dynamic

One of the common issues dragging leaders down into the mire of management is when nagging and persistent issues with team dynamic mean that nobody works at their best ability either individually or as a group. If your team is unable to manage these issues themselves, this can cause even the best manager to be dragged into petty squabbles. A strong team dynamic is important, and in its simplest sense could be improved with social activities and some planned or spontaneous team fun, although depending on the issues you are experiencing, you could need more drastic action.

When delegating and organising work, improving team dynamic can play a part in your planning, using your leadership role to help team members develop relationships and build bridges as well as completing tasks. Think about who works with whom, use their strengths and aim to build upon the natural dynamic of the team, don’t try to force it, and many issues will work through organically.

A day as a group working through team or personality profilers such as the well renowned MBTI or Belbin systems might help people understand each other better and therefore work out any issues lying beneath the surface. Seeking out an external or independent facilitator for this type of team day will help, either through an agency or using a skilled facilitator from another part of the business.

Problems between certain individuals

If you’re finding yourself frequently called upon to referee issues between certain individuals, the resulting damage to the morale and productivity of those directly and peripherally involved can be dramatic. Help your team understand how to manage low level issues themselves to avoid being pulled upon.

Teaching your team basic mediation skills can help, if the problems become sizeable, or using a qualified mediator may help if the problem is very specifically between certain individuals. Mediation is a specialised process and requires the support of a confident individual who has been properly trained, to help get to the root of issues - it can be applicable in situations where both parties wish to resolve the issue, and usually works well when there is no direct or clear cut fault - such as a clash of personality or style.

If mediation is not an option, facilitated meetings can be of value, in which an independent and discrete team member - usually a manager or someone more senior, helps individuals talk through their specific challenges and seek a robust solution to allow better working relationships. When considering how to make your team better able to work through issues themselves, it is most important to remember not to shy away from problems - issues can infect whole team, and will almost certainly weaken your position as a boss.

Problems with decision making

If your team struggles to make their own decisions you will find yourself constantly called upon to make the final call. This can be a result of individuals feeling they are not trusted to decide themselves, or a culture in which risk taking (or perceived risk taking) appears to be frowned upon. Empower the team to make decisions, and practise your own delegation skills - as the manager of the team, the culture is a direct result of your style and you are well placed to develop and change it.

Make the team feel trusted by taking time to coach decisions through when asked to arbitrate. Don’t give your view immediately - ask the individual to talk through their decision making process, the pros and cons, and what they think the decision should be. It will be an investment in time to allow your team to grow.

If something goes wrong due to a team decision, think about your reaction to it. Make it clear that if things go wrong, you will work together to resolve the problem, not punish people for taking the initiative. As problems with decision making can indicate a broader culture problem you may consider tackling it head on, by asking people what they think about the team culture and how to improve it.

Problems with workload

If your team struggles to resolve workload issues without your intervention, check that you are being realistic both in your demands, and how you are describing the tasks that need to be completed. Coach your team on planning if this is an issue, and ensure they are clear on what is vital in their role and daily tasks. Simple ideas such as delegating the end result, rather than the process, can help your employees find the best way to achieve a task using their personal preferences and strengths. Be clear on the timelines and objectives for delegated tasks, and give regular feedback to keep everyone on track.

Finally, remember, not all issues can be resolved without your intervention - have an open door policy and spend plenty of time getting to know your staff so they can raise any issues they genuinely can’t fix, before they spiral out of control.

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