4 keys to building a team that delivers results

Lots of managers are fond of talking about how they’re only as successful as their people. And it’s true — but startlingly few managers (including plenty of the ones who like to repeat this phrase) actually practice the behaviors that should stem from that belief.

If you truly believe your success hinges on your team, you should be putting a hell of a lot of effort into building and maintaining a great one — in how you hire, how you treat high performers, and how you handle problems. Specifically:

1. Be someone who great people want to work for. Managers often underestimate just how important this is, but managers have an enormous impact on the quality of life of the people on their team. And when you want to attract the best candidates, those are generally people who will have options and who are more inclined to be thoughtful about what type of manager they work best with. That means that hiring isn’t just a one-way street; top-tier candidates are going to be assessing you right back and deciding whether they’d be excited to join your team. It’s important to make sure that you’re managing in a way that will attract and retain great employees: treating people well, getting everyone aligned around clear goals and expectations, providing useful feedback and development opportunities, recognizing and rewarding great work, ensuring they have the resources to do their jobs, and generally making your team an attractive place to work.

2. Give your staff real input into the direction of your team and its work. That doesn’t mean that you need to let your staff dictate all decisions – there are good reasons not to do that – but it does mean that you should seek out their input and give it real consideration (while making it clear that you’ll make the final call, when that’s the case). For instance, you might tell people, “I’m grappling with the right goals for next year and would love to run my thoughts by you and hear your input” or “I need to make a decision about how to time this launch and would love your thoughts.” And do take the input you receive seriously – engage, ask questions, explain when you disagree, and give it a real hearing. By doing this, you’re not only going to make staff members feel more invested in your team because they’ll feel that their input is meaningful, but you’re also more likely to make good decisions because you’ll have been able to consider counsel from others.

3. Hire really, really carefully. The biggest lever you have to get results from your staff is who you hire in the first place. That means that you should put a ton of energy into recruiting (so that you have a strong pool of candidates to choose from) and screening candidates, including finding ways to test candidates’ skills and see them in action before making any hiring decision. Rushing to make a hire just to fill a vacancy as quickly as possible might save you time on the front end, but it will often cost you far more in the long-run (as you deal with a team of non-super-stars).

4. Realize that your responsibility for the make-up of your team doesn’t stop with hiring. Managers often figure that they’re supposed to do the best they can with the team they have, but you will get far more done if you consider it part of your job to actively manage and shape your team’s make-up, just like a sports coach does. That means putting real energy not just into hiring, but also into developing team members to help them get better and better at what they do, as well as being strategic about retaining your best staff members and letting go of people who aren’t performing at the level you need.

{ 10 comments… read them below }

  1. Jake*

    I had a manager that knocked 3 of these out of the ball park and did a mediocre job on one. He just didn’t hire really well. All of his superstars were hired by somebody else and put in his department or hired with significant input from his boss.

    That being said, he took a team with an average skillset at best and turned us into the best department on the project. If he called me tomorrow for a new project, I’d have a heck of a hard time telling him no. Unfortunately nearly his entire staff turned over in the last year due to very poor management next to him and above him.

    I’m sure his new staff is just as ragtag as we were, and I’m sure they are still kicking butt and taking names, just like we did. Alison is 100% right, if you do these 4 things, your team is going to be awesome.

  2. Not So NewReader*

    Alison, keep saying it loud and often. I cannot tell you how many people have not gotten the message.
    My uncle managed a department at a fairly well-known company in his greater area. They were not the best paid people in the world. One thing my uncle did was encourage them to better themselves and if that meant finding a different job then so be it. The result was the employees stayed with my uncle’s company. People quit bosses not jobs. My uncle believed that by showing employees that they had the freedom/ability to work anywhere, it allowed people to think through all the ramifications of changing jobs, and did they really want to change. This gave him willing employees and a great team.
    I am sure there were other factors, but this is one aspect that I remember my uncle talking about. His comment was there is more to a job than a paycheck.

  3. Snarkus Ariellius*

    Adding a couple more things…

    Do not, do not, do not punish your high performers with higher and higher expectations and demands.  Do not punish them by making them responsible for the lower performers on top of their regular jobs.  

    When the high performers do an above and beyond good job, don’t act like that’s expected.  Similarly when the high performers screw up, don’t act like it’s the end of the world and your life is ruined.

    Come to staff meetings prepared and don’t nitpick small things as a defense mechanism for unpreparedness and/or ignorance.  (Whipping out a rule to measure margins on an internal memo when Rome is burning doesn’t reflect well on you.)

    Don’t talk smack behind staffer’s backs.  If you talk this way about Person A, I’m confident you’ll talk about me the same way when I’m not around.

    Last and MOST importantly….(and yes I know I’ll get grief for this)

    Don’t let your assistant put “thank staff” meetings on your calendar, especially when ALL staff can see your calendar.  If you have to be reminded to thank someone for something, then you’re either five years old or you don’t truly value the item in the first place.  (Also it’s funny to have that stuff be reoccurring for years to come.)

    1. Kai*

      “Come to staff meetings prepared and don’t nitpick small things as a defense mechanism for unpreparedness and/or ignorance. (Whipping out a rule to measure margins on an internal memo when Rome is burning doesn’t reflect well on you.)”

      Huh. I think you just articulated the one thing about my boss that really gets under my skin.

      Also, your last point is very funny and very, very sad.

      1. Snarkus Ariellius*

        For the first few years, I took it personally.  How else could I take it?  Such criticism was really hurtful and mean.  Then, and I don’t know why it took this long, I realized the lashing out occurred when I listed all the ways I’d transmitted critical information: email, voicemail, hardcopy memos, in person reminders, etc. when she demanded to know why I deliberately didn’t tell her something.  It was making her feel incompetent so she was finding SOME detail I missed no matter how little.

        I learned to blow it off, but I’m sure there were times she had legitimate feedback about me.  She cried wolf one too many times.

        Honestly, if she’d just asked me questions or a summary straight out, despite all those methods of communication, I wouldn’t have thought less of her.  She was a busy woman.

        It was the cover up, personal attacks, and retaliation that were irritating.

        I’ve interacted with far too many bosses that really think their staff aren’t that bright and don’t pick up on these things.

    2. Daria*

      “Do not, do not, do not punish your high performers with higher and higher expectations and demands. Do not punish them by making them responsible for the lower performers on top of their regular jobs. ”

      QFT. I’m in the middle of this one right now. It’s really irritating.

  4. Puddin*

    First paragraph – I call this the capability tax.

    TY meetings, yeah I disagree (sort of), as you predicted. If its something I need to do it goes on my calendar. But it might be better practice to actually be more spontaneous with these. Offer them when they are needed – after a big project is completed or when goals are met, or a difficulty is overcome , not as a ‘task’ that must be completed.

  5. Jen RO*

    This is timely, because I just got promoted and my team has… issues. (Alison, any chance for an early open thread tomorrow? I have a few questions for the hive mind…)

  6. Rubina*

    My coworker is an ultra competitive woman. Although she is subordinate by rank ( she was demoted from store manager to pharmacy tech), she has bullied, ruined my reputation and undermined my credibility with the owner of the pharmacy business. The new store manager is on my side. It appears the owners are aware of the situation, but this woman is a master of upward networking and I am constantly on the defensive. I am good at what I do, and love my work. I have played nice for 3 years, and it appears that is where I went wrong. The woman comes from a back ground where women are sexualized, and you had to crawl your way up by competing with the lowest common denominator. Please help me put this bully in her place, by winning back the owners faith in me. I am Midwestern in NYC. Please help me. I am getting panic attacks.

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