The fate of business ventures and complex projects often hinges on the collective effort of the group working on it.
Ask any business owner, entrepreneur, or project manager about the driving force that propelled them to success, and most would say that it’s a high-performing, collaborative team.
Trying to go it alone rather than using the collective skills of your team is an uphill slog and rarely leads to growth, which is why successful team management is essential.
This piece will cover the importance of team management, seven best practices for effective team management, and three real-life case studies.
What is team management?
Team management is the coordination and facilitation of a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.
The fundamental goal of effective team management is to build a positive work environment that revolves around a cohesive team, collaboration, and mutual respect. To do so, you must harness your team’s diverse skills and perspectives and channel them toward a unified goal.
Effective team management requires strong leadership, emotional intelligence, communication prowess, time management skills, and active listening. It can't hurt to have a team management tool (or project management software) to help make things easier and more efficient for you.
The idea is to create a positive culture where people want to work.
Autocratic leadership vs servant leadership
Before diving into the nuts and bolts of team management, it's important to discern between team management styles. Essentially, there are two: autocratic leadership vs. servant leadership.
Autocratic leadership is a form of management in which one individual holds the ultimate authority to make decisions. Autocratic leaders manage daily activities and give explicit guidance.
Abraham Lincoln rarely gave orders on the battlefield, yet made many historic decisions.
Some would argue that the autocratic style of leadership is no longer an effective method of managing because the business or project is built up around that one person. If that person leaves, well, things can start to unravel.
Servant leadership, on the other hand, is about fostering and building self-sustaining teams that can operate even if the leadership role changes.
Rather than dictating what must be done, a servant leader asks employees what help they need to perform at their highest level. Servant leaders use soft skills to cultivate relationships with employees, gain their trust, and motivate them.
Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx, is an advocate of the idea that "putting employees first will result in the best service, and profit will follow." The company's culture is built around the "People – Service – Profit" philosophy, and it's driven them to reach massive success.
Why is team management important?
In addition to fostering a supportive atmosphere and keeping everyone focused on the objectives of the team and organization, there are more advantages to team management. Let’s examine three of them.
When people feel valued, supported, and like they belong to a team, they'll likely be more motivated to stick around and work harder.
With effective team management, you can motivate employees, which has a direct correlation to the team's work environment and job satisfaction.
How? You could:
- Get involved by showing enthusiasm for the team's development and forming relationships.
- Acknowledge those for their effort, not just the result. It'll help them feel recognized and push them to perform better.
- Collectively agree on and discuss the company's objectives to motivate your employees and unite around a common goal.
Bad team management, on the other hand, can do the opposite and lead to employee turnover.
Managers have the most power to affect employee engagement, which affects productivity. According to Gallup, managers account for 70% of employee engagement variance.
A good manager knows how to engage his employees with things like recognition, which will likely motivate them to work harder. Compare this to a bad manager who never gives their employees any recognition, thus leading his employees to not feel valued and not want to give their all.
According to a different Gallup Survey, you can expect these benefits if you make engagement a top priority:
- An 18% increase in sales because employees are actively dedicated to their roles and the business goals.
- When there’s an increase in productivity, you can increase your profits by 23%.
- Engaged employees will deliver better quality customer service. Hence, customer loyalty and engagement can increase by 10%.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast (or so goes the adage by business guru Peter Drucker).
Company culture is something you feel (vs. measure). It's the shared attitudes, values, and behaviors that are present throughout the company and are manifested in team dynamics and decision-making.
A positive culture will give your organization an edge over others. It draws in top-tier applicants, helps you keep talent, and drives engagement.
According to Gallup research, having a strong culture can dramatically boost team performance, which can lead to an 85% increase in net profit over five years.
And you get to culture via effective, collaborative team management.
7 best practices for team management that will unlock their true potential
Before we dive into the best practices, let’s first define the goal of team management and what that requires.
The goal of great team management is to guide the team to become self-sufficient. To do that, you need to define roles and responsibilities, foster team collaboration, and manage the retention and flow of information.
Put your people first
Put your people first, and the rest will (usually) come.
Obviously, you want to keep your eye on the ball (goals and bottom line), but neglecting your people and culture can lead to a toxic work environment.
Taking a people-first approach puts employees at the heart of everything you do, and translates into happier customers and a healthy bottom line.
J.W. Marriott, the founder of the Marriott Corporation, once stated that if you treat your employees well, your employees will take great care of your customers, who will then come back.
Some simple ways to go down the servant-leader path are:
- Respect employees as individuals
- Reward the effort (not just the wins)
- Ask for opinions
- Embrace autonomous work habits
Lead by example
You know what works (much) better than micro-management? Getting your hands dirty, pitching in.
Or, to put it another way, team managers must be able to “walk the walk.”
Mahatma Gandhi is the perfect example of leading by example. Gandhi's nonviolent resistance during India's struggle for independence changed others' views on nonviolent resistance, creating a powerful movement.
And when you do, you must demonstrate the attributes and behaviors you expect from your team members.
Leading by example also:
- Shows commitment to your team's goals and values.
- Builds trust and respect.
- Demonstrates the behavior and results you expect from your team.
- Encourages individuals to be held accountable and take responsibility.
Team management often includes delegating (and assigning) work. This is a critical but delicate function.
However, even the most experienced managers sometimes have difficulty with assigning tasks. In fact, around one-fifth of employees report they feel overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to do “most of the time.”
Factors you have to consider include:
- Team goals
- Resource constraints
- Productivity levels
- Individual ability, knowledge, and capacity
So how do you keep all this in mind and free up your own time to manage the bigger picture? You need to think about empowering people when you delegate them.
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook until 2022, is famous for delegating with finesse. She empowered her team to take the lead on projects. This instilled a sense of ownership over the work and brought out the best in the team. Sheryl then had more time to focus on big-picture issues.
But you have to be careful to (also) appear fair while doing so.
You can also use these platforms to assign work based on each team member's capacity and adjust tasks to balance workloads. Even better, these tools can give you an overview of each team member's tasks and due dates.
Communicate your vision
It's easy to get lost in your day-to-day tasks, even as a manager, but it's critical that you can (and do) articulate and communicate your vision. When everyone is busy with heads-down work, how else will the team know what they are working toward?
In 1962, John F. Kennedy said, “By the end of the decade, we will put a man on the moon.”
A well-defined vision outlines short-term and long-term goals clearly (and concisely) that's easily digestible on the receiving end.
Besides defining the finish line, it's also an extremely effective way to build accountability within the team, which can help with motivation and performance.
Leaders and managers should also look for ways to communicate this vision effectively, like with a product or project roadmap.
And here's a pro tip: You can use team management software to effectively communicate and track work against that vision.
Speaking of which, effective communication might be one of the most important soft skills you rely on as a team manager.
Good communication can take many shapes, including articulating and clarifying team roles, tasks, goals, and objectives. Good communication opens the door to transparency and shuts the door on assumptions.
Nelson Mandela had an inclusive communication style, which focused on cooperation and understanding, that changed many people’s minds and opinions. His communication style helped him deliver a powerful message of unity and peaceful resolution that ended apartheid in South Africa.
Another pro tip for experienced team leaders and project managers is the idea of a communication plan that outlines how essential project information will be shared with team members, stakeholders, and customers. The plan should outline what should be shared with whom, which channels should be used, and the frequency of the communication.
A project management platform (like Motion) can help everyone communicate and collaborate better.
Provide constructive feedback
Feedback can be food for rapport and improvement. It's a great way to get at the heart of something and consider alternatives if necessary.
But, like with comedy, it's all in the delivery and a two-way street. Comedians adjust their routines based on the feedback they are getting from the audience.
The trick lies in active listening (on both sides), which means you are listening to understand, not just waiting for your turn to talk.
Screwfix reversed the traditional feedback flow. Not only did they ensure that managers gave feedback to their subordinates, but they also implemented a system where workers gave feedback to their superiors. The result? Employee-driven initiatives to improve customer experience are part of the company's dialogue.
Constructive feedback can help employees and managers build trust (and perform better).
Scheduling feedback sessions while juggling all your other responsibilities can be challenging, but it doesn't have to be. Instead, use Motion, which has an AI meeting and scheduling assistant.
Conflict management helps to maintain trust and effective team collaboration.
Although unavoidable, left unchecked, conflict within a team can ruin trust, collaboration and culture, resulting in terrible consequences for both the team and the organization.
Conflict in the workplace can arise for a host of reasons, including personality issues or people feeling left out because of a lack of responsibility.
Nelson Mandela faced the colossal task of dismantling the apartheid system. Rather than focusing on revenge, he did so based on reconciliation.
It's important to anticipate potential problems and tackle conflicts immediately. Do this by being proactive and finding a mutual solution. You might have to start with feedback sessions (see above).
3 IRL examples of team management
Many teams have worked together to achieve some remarkable things.
The philanthropist Bill Gates
Bill Gates took information technology from 0 to 100 with his company, Microsoft, and he couldn't have done this without his leadership skills (and team).
Bill Gates' foresight, ambitious business tactics, and relentless work attitude are great examples of leading by example. He had an autocratic leadership style and could quickly take action in changing circumstances.
He often had to manage conflicts, communicate the rationale behind strategic moves, and unify employees around a vision.
Consequently, Microsoft now generates an annual turnover of nearly $100 billion and has a workforce of over 120,000 people worldwide.
Bill Gates was an autocratic leader who:
- Led by example
- Communicated clearly and directly
- Provided constructive feedback and recognition
- Managed conflict effectively
Apollo 11 moon landing
The Apollo 11 mission in 1969 is a great example of teamwork.
Behind that moment are years of research and teams of people working hard to break new ground. NASA calculated that around 400,000 people played a vital role in the success of the moon landing.
The teams, comprised of scientists, engineers, and technicians, required strong collaboration and team management.
To foster collaboration, the astronauts worked alongside numerous people to establish a human connection with the entire team.
The astronauts were servant leaders who:
- Led by example
- Embraced a people-fist attitude
- Communicated transparently and directly
The Starbucks scale crisis
Starbucks had an uphill road to becoming the massive success it is now.
In the '90s, Howard Schultz, the inaugural CEO of Starbucks, opened several hundred stores across America, but all didn't go well. The company may have made a successful blend of coffee, but their customer service and staff satisfaction were more stale than a pot of cold brew from the day before.
In 1995, Howard Behar took over Starbucks' leadership, bringing many positive changes to the company's culture. He created a work environment based around employees, which translated into happier (and even more) customers.
He firmly believed that it wasn't the coffee they were selling but the customer's experience.
Howard Behar was a servant leader who:
- Put people first (not coffee)
- Could communicate clearly and directly
- Led by example
- Provided constructive feedback and recognition
Proper team management can boost your business productivity
Effective team management helps you steer people in the right direction and shape business or project success.
To make your job easier, use Motion to simplify and automate the administrative tasks of team management, including:
- Task assignments
- Capacity management
- Intuitive, visual view of all the work (for transparency)
- Communication (for better collaboration)
- Optimized scheduling
Sign up for a 7-day free trial today.