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Make your mark as team leader

Finding yourself leading a team for the first time can be a daunting experience especially if promotion into such a role comes relatively early on in a career. Here are some pointers on how to make a success of the role.

Suddenly, a group of people will be reliant on you for direction, support and motivation and it is down to you to ensure they achieve their own as well as the organisation’s aims and objectives. It is no longer just your career of which you are in charge but other peoples’, and that means conducting their appraisals and salary reviews, setting them objectives and discussing their professional development.

Engineering and technology companies increasingly rely on high-performing teams to innovate and provide competitive edge and becoming a team leader brings with it considerable responsibility and pressure. It is important not only to make sure you have the necessary skills to make the transition but also fully understand the full scope of the role.

Skilling up for the job

In some areas of engineering and technology, the emphasis is still very much on developing technical rather than management skills (see Engineer your way into management). While this is understandable to a degree, first time leaders need to have a solid grasp of core management skills such as clear communication, excellent time management and the ability to delegate, influence, facilitate, and motivate.

Another key trait is a willingness to listen to others and to seek feedback. Good team leaders tend to be self-aware when it comes to their own strengths and weaknesses and have high emotional intelligence levels so they are able to empathise with others. Ideally, you will have begun to develop and hone many of these skills already but if you feel you are lacking in key areas talk to your boss about what professional development opportunities are open to you.

Get to know your people

As well as an awareness of your own abilities, it is vital to understand the talent in the team. Talk to each team member individually to assess their strengths and weaknesses and also to discover more about what interests and motivates them. Showing you are interested in each individual is an important part of building trust and rapport which are both crucial to being a successful team leader.

“To be blunt, many new leaders don’t make enough time to spend with their teams to see how they can support them to do their best,” says Jason Miller, founding partner at business coaching and leadership development company, Tinder-Box. “This is especially important when the team leader is first appointed: as in any relationship, it takes time to understand how best to ‘dance’ together and this can only be done by spending time together.”

Building high-performing teams

All team leaders should aspire to create a truly great team. Tinder-Box points to high-performing teams requiring four key elements and Miller reckons that if even one of these components is neglected, the team runs the risk of under-performing.

Direction: is the vision for the team clear? Are the collective goals well understand and being measured? Is there a common sense of purpose that they are committed to? Is the desired reputation of the team clear to all and are they actively working towards creating that?

Organisation: does the team have the right people, with the right skills, in the right roles to deliver its agenda? Are accountabilities and decision making channels well understood?

Process: are the processes in place that will support the team delivering its agenda? For examples, meeting schedules, governance processes for key deliverables, communication forums for key updates.

Relationships: Do team members understand how to support each other in order to be at their best? Are they able to give powerful and constructive feedback to each other as well as their line manager? Have the stakeholders been identified and being proactively managed?

Deal with underperformance swiftly

Review the team and each individual’s progress regularly. Sometimes this might involve having difficult conversations but it is part and parcel of being a leader.

Miller suggests many people shy away from doing this as they fear it will demotivate the individual concerned but he stresses that most want to be given feedback and the opportunity to improve their performance. Avoid being confrontational though and make sure any criticism is constructive.

Finally, make sure you assess your own performance. If the team is performing well, it means you are doing your job well but continue to elicit honest feedback from team members and peers, as there is always room for improvement.

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