As my work has evolved, I’ve shifted from being a solo freelancer to managing a small team. While I have plenty more to learn, here are my takeaways in this new role so far.
Building a staff relationship that is relaxed yet highly productive is a balancing act.
Being empathetic toward team members is the best approach for both sides. This is no more complicated than treating others as you’d want to be treated.
For example, rephrase this:
“How can I make so-and-so get more work done?“
“What can I offer so-and-so to help them be more efficient?“
The latter is always going to be received better. It focuses on taking care of staff first and, as a side effect, they’ll be more equipped to do their work.
Most importantly, it places the responsibility of building a productive team back onto the manager, where the liability should be.
In short: take the time to get to know your team on a personal level and genuinely care about them. Getting to know each other as people, no just coworkers, makes for a much tighter bond.
Everyone wants to be heard and see their opinions integrated into their work. They don’t want to be told how and when to do everything — that doesn’t build confidence. Full ownership of projects helps grow pride in the work.
Additionally, giving public credit whenever possible helps raise morale. This could be as simple as posting in the company chat about a team member’s recent achievement.
Likewise, if someone makes a mistake, that’s almost always better handled one-on-one rather than in the open to avoid embarrassment.
A successful business is more than making money; it’s about positively affecting the lives of staff who contribute their time, the most valuable commodity.
Every team member needs to be given the chance to personally grow their knowledge, face exciting challenges, and use your company as a stepping stone on their own path.
If a year goes by and all they did was earn the company more money but didn’t personally grow, that’s a recipe for an unhappy employee.
Above all, trust in delegating
As someone who worked solo for over a decade, I still struggle with this one. It can be extremely difficult to entrust tasks that you feel you’re capable of doing yourself. There will be moments when you debate whether it would be quicker to explain the task to staff or just knock the work out yourself.
The problem with doing the work is you can’t get that time back. Every minute spent solving a problem takes away from other missed opportunities. Micromanaging is even worse as it eats away at your time and the staff’s.
It’s the manager’s job to trust those helping and it’s the staff’s responsibility to be accountable for their work. You’ll know fairly quickly if someone is being productive or lazy. Like the folks at Basecamp said, you want a staff that doesn’t need a lot of oversight and will surprise you with how much they get done on their own.
Accept that you also can’t be right all the time or do all the work. Be open to feedback and be impressed with how much more you can achieve when there are multiple brains working on a shared goal.
Be the example
Whenever possible, end your workday after your staff to show you’re putting in the hours, too. Nobody likes thinking the “boss” is out playing golf while they’re working hard.
Try to avoid phrases like, “I’m busy and will get back to you when I can.” That indirectly says to staff that they are secondary to you.
Also, stay healthy and take care of yourself. When someone else relies on your guidance, you need to be in a solid state. Put yourself in a position to be helpful. If you’re burnt out, not sleeping well, or generally unhealthy, you’re not going to have the energy to offer guidance when needed.
Protect your flow state
Most jobs benefit from long stretches of uninterrupted work time to “get in the zone”. I’ve found this to be especially true for design and development tasks. It’s important to account for this in when scheduling.
As one example, think carefully on meeting times. Placing a call in the middle of the day often breaks any morning flow and shortens the chance of reaching that state in the afternoon. Cranking through meetings at the start of end of the day helps protect a healthy block of uninterrupted work time in the middle.
Encourage receiving questions via email or other less immediate forms of communication. This helps let you and staff get to questions as you have time. Also, create an understanding that responding instantly via Slack or similar chat tools is not a requirement.
More importantly than making the perfect decision is acting quickly, particularly when others are waiting on you. You’ll never be infallible but it’s worse to be wrong and have spent too much time overthinking it.
It’s better to act quickly, then adjust course based on those results. Rinse and repeat.
Have any manager tips or books you’d recommend on the subject? Reach out on Twitter.