Your intern? Your team? Help them be more productive.

If you’ve been managing project teams or even a department for some time, you might know a thing or two about leadership. Maybe you’ve only just been promoted and are dipping your toe into leading people for the first time. Or maybe you are the intern yourself and trying to articulate what would behavior of your boss would help you become even more productive in the future (feel free to forward this article).

In any case, a little advice on how to communicate within a team in order to make everyone perform at their best can never hurt.

It can be a great thing having people work for you and being able to delegate tasks, as can being asked for advice and guidance feel very rewarding. However, and managers tend to forget this especially in the early stages, this opportunity comes with the responsibility to actually take the time for them. Be prepared to dedicate a significant share of your day towards people managing – sometimes more than the time you saved by delegating.

There are plenty of great books and articles on leadership of course. Nonetheless, here’s what I think are some good and practical tipps to remember when trying to make your (junior) subordinates more productive, satisfied and successful. In the end, remember that successful employees make you look good – so invest in them!

Set clear, ambitious but realistic deadlines

You know how you always get things done just in time, as required? Yep, your team is probably just the same – especially if they are juggling multiple tasks given to them by different people. The best idea to make them be more productive is to give them clear deadlines and communicate priorities – and stay aware of them yourself to collect deliverables and show that you care.

Ensure they have a somewhat stable, sustainable workload

Even when you’re in the consulting business, meaning you pretty much cannot foresee where you’ll be working next month or what your workload will be next week, anyone likes stability in their lives. So if you want to make your people happy, try to even-out their workload by supporting them more when needed. During easier times, try to give them some guidance on what they could tackle next (something that is often pushed aside) – and send them home early once in a while! Studies have shown that too much stress is bad for productivity, but so is too little.

Give room for creativity, but no spongy tasks

High performers like to show that they are able to come up with great solutions themselves. Let them! You might just be surprised. Plus, how would you like your boss to tell you every single detail of some basic task he or she wants you to take care of for them?

Great, you might be thinking – less time spent drawing up hand-written slides and explaining all the details you had in mind. Not so fast. While the driven members of the team in particular need some space for developing their own solutions, this is not to say that you should be unclear in your communication of the end result that is expected – especially if you have something rather specific in mind.

Try to brainstorm ideas in the beginning, and when you see that they have some good ideas and get what you’re looking for, leave it to that. If you get the feeling the task is entirely new for them, try working together until you reach 20% or send them some examples to look to for orientation.

Provide them with enough information

Be transparent, generous and proactive when it comes to providing information and sharing your experience. Let them peek over your shoulder in the beginning, let them borrow your resources. Have an open-door policy when it comes to asking questions.

Schedule meetings and checkpoints

A good idea is to set up the following checkpoints, and try not to interrupt their flow too much in between:

  1. schedule a kick-off meeting (as described above) to set the overall goal and direction
  2. check back in to discuss a very first draft – but ensure they feel safe to present a true draft, meaning you cannot criticize format etc. yet!
  3. give them the chance to present their 80% version to you so you can help them achieve 110.
  4. if possible, give them a platform to present good results – in front of the whole team, the client or the management. There really isn’t any reason to think you need to do this yourself. Pushing your team, again, will only fall back on you – and in a good way.

Give specific and timely feedback

This one might seem obvious, but it is often forgotten or rushed. When criticizing, be direct, specific, and provide solution approaches. Also, do it as soon as possible after you have noticed a behavior you’d like them to work on. There’s nothing more unfair than addressing some little thing they might have said months ago during their semiannual performance review.

And then, focus on positive reinforcement! Try to challenge yourself by trying to give at least the same amount of praise as criticism. It will feel weird in the beginning. but it will change your entire attitude and be a big motivator for both sides.

Last but not least, ask for feedback yourself. And don’t let it be just an empty phrase – ask them to prepare feedback for your next meeting, so that they don’t just say something on the spot. Show them you want to know what they really think – the good and the bad.

Above all – know your employees

The number one thing to remember when coaching and managing people is that you, as the superior, need to adapt to your subordinates – not vice versa. Everyone is motivated differently, and everyone needs a different leadership style. Find out what motivates them, what makes them feel supported and valued, which style of communication they are most responsive to. If you do have the time and the resources, ask your whole team (or even department / company) to take a personality test such as the Myers-Briggs type indicator. You’ll be surprised just how much more successful you and your team will tackle to-do’s.

Tell me, what’s the number one thing your people respond to best? What do you value most coming from your boss?

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  1. Hi Lara!
    Your article it’s very interesting and useful. Currently I’m in charge of a great team, but not going to lie: it can be pretty hard at times. I try to be a good boss, the kind of boss you can approach when you have doubts or when you want to share something, but at the same time I’m strict in specific themes. I’m also in the consulting business, my clients are very demanding and that’s also another factor that affects the motivation of my team work, sometimes it feels like I’m juggling between the requirements and their emotions, do you know what I mean? It’s hard to explain but I guess it’s common in our industry.
    Congratulations on the new site launching, I love the changes and I’m sure this new adventure will be great.

    • Hi Sam, I completely know what you mean!
      Obviously it cannot always be just fun and harmonious – and dealing with a low-performer can be so tough, especially when the pressure is on.
      I think it’s just important to try not to pass on the unfiltered pressure to the team, but to act sort of like a protective shield between the client and them. Who doesn’t have difficult clients! 🙂
      Thanks so much for your positive feedback and all the best to you!

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