Managing a team is a balancing act between achieving results, making sure your team members are happy and finding your own fulfilment. It truly is an art form. Find out how to do it all in this post ~ Pop Your Career

The Art of Managing a Team

Managing a team is truly an art form and it is just as difficult as it is rewarding.


Humans are unpredictable and for this reason, people management can sometimes feel like managing a zoo; so many different personalities, needs and feeding schedules. It can be an absolute nightmare trying to keep up.

But as I mentioned, managing a team can also be rewarding. Personally, I get a huge rush from helping people discover and maximise their strengths and this is one of the greatest rewards that I have taken from team management. One of the greatest difficulties I experienced was balancing the needs of my team with the needs of the organisation and this has prompted me to share my top tips for managing a team, with emphasis on both success and your own happiness.

Understand the motivations of your team members.

Because everyone is different. The first rule of managing a team is to understand that a one size fits all model simply doesn't work. Each one of your team members will be driven by different things. I learned this quickly when creating incentives for my staff.

As the manager of a sales team, I put in place an incentive where employees would guess the number of lollies in a jar. Each sale of a specific type was eligible for a guess. The winner would take home the jar of lollies. The team was split. Half of my team members were excited about the prospect of winning this massive jar of lollies (a tangible reward that they could touch, feel and taste) while the other half of the team remained nonchalant. When I asked one of my employees what I could do to make the incentive more exciting, he replied, "Put five dollars in the jar. Then I will fight to win." You see, some people are just driven by cold, hard cash.

Understand the learning styles of your team members.

Similarly to point 1, everyone has different learning styles and to get the best out of your employees, you need to work to their preferences. In an environment where most of the key learning is completed through an online course portal, it can be challenging to vary your method of teaching, especially when the formal course completion is mandatory. Where a learning method can't be replaced, consider how it can be complemented - for example, could you also include some on-the-job training to reinforce the material that is covered in the online modules?

By considering your employees' learning preferences, you will not only ensure that they are improving their knowledge, you are also showing that you are committed to their professional development. This creates buy-in and loyalty, particularly when employees have not experienced a tailored approach to learning in previous roles.

Establish a balance between achieving company goals and advocating for your employees.

As I hinted to at the beginning of this post, balance was the most difficult thing for me when managing a team. In my article on The Huffington Post, I explained that I am a people-focused introvert, which means that I have very loyal and protective tendencies. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. I wanted my team to be successful, but I also didn't want them to lose out in the process. This lead to a number of arguments with company Directors, particularly when it came to changing commission structures or employee conditions, but arguments in this sense can be quite healthy.

My greatest advice when establishing your own balance is to choose your battles. Work within the framework that you are given, to do the best for your team that you can. Advocating for your team builds trust and shows your employees that you are willing to back them. It also shows your employer that you are passionate about your work and that you are committed to delivering outcomes.

Lead from the front - demonstrate you can be trusted and are willing to get down and dirty in the trenches.

Leading from the front is something that, in hindsight, I could have improved on when I was managing a team. I focused on managing the people and convinced myself that I didn't need the technical knowledge, but I can see now that pushing myself to learn more about products, services and systems would have only added to my influence.

In general terms though, what I mean by leading from the front, is showing your team that you can be trusted, by getting down and dirty in the trenches with them. Don't expect your team members to work until 6pm if you are going to knock off at 4pm every day. Don't expect your team members to attend after hours training or events if you aren't going to show up with them. You see what I mean? It is all about proving that you aren't "above" the tasks that need to be completed.

Be human - have a sense of humour, show that you have feelings and the ability to make human connections.

Hopefully, if you are a regular Pop Your Career reader, this goes without saying. A sense of humour and a little humility will go a long way in convincing a team to follow your lead. People connect with people and if you can show your team that you are human and have feelings, half the battle is already won.

I know that some of you may think that managers have to be serious and not get involved in joking around with the team, but I disagree wholeheartedly. By developing human relationships with your team members you are proving that you are approachable. Your employees need to feel comfortable with you, if they are ever going to come to you with queries or concerns.

Foster a joint purpose, direction or vision and consistently drive towards it with determination and confidence.

What are you working towards? Is it clear to your employees? In a sales environment the targets are usually very well set out, but in other workplaces, the goals can seem a little murky. If you want your team to work cohesively, one of the most important things for you to do is be ridiculously clear about what it is you want them to achieve. Then you need to convince them to work together to drive towards the common goal.

Some managers miss this step, because people are paid to do their jobs, so they shouldn't need any more motivation than that. Right? Sure, but it depends on the type of team culture you are trying to foster. Do you want your employees to come to work because you pay them to or do you want them to come to work because they are excited about what you are working towards. Your choice.

Recognise your employee's achievements and reward them.

This ties to my last point in a way, because some of you may believe that an employee's pay cheque is reward enough for the work they have done. I live in a totally different camp though and believe that by recognising your employees' achievements and by rewarding them for their work, they will be more engaged and will work harder towards your common goal.

What should you reward them with? I am glad you asked. Refer back to point 1 and consider what motivates them. Your budget doesn't have to be high, but if your employee's are motivated by cash then a small bonus will suffice. If your employees enjoy tangible rewards, a physical prize is a great idea. Other rewards might include longer lunch breaks, an early mark, a day in lieu, scratch cards, free lunch, gift cards, edible rewards, a week off from bin duty or something else entirely. The options are endless.

Provide specific, timely feedback.

As important as I believe it is to reward your employees, it is also important to provide them with feedback on their work. Feedback should always be very specific and timely.

By specific, I mean, tell your employee exactly what they have done that either deserves praise, or needs improvement. The more specific you are, the better chance you will have of getting through. Instead of "Thanks for all of your hard work." try "Thanks for all of your hard work on the XYZ project. The report you prepared was very detailed and included the exact type of information we needed for the meeting".

By timely, I mean, don't wait three weeks to tell someone they did a good job. If you see one of your employees having an excellent conversation with a customer, tell them as soon as the customer leaves the store (or as soon as possible after). This way the behaviour is fresh in both of your minds.

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Show an interest in your employee's professional growth and development and provide learning opportunities and challenges.

We have already talked a little about identifying your employees' learning styles and motivators, but taking an interest in their professional growth and development is going one step further. I am talking about engaging with your team members and talking to them about where they want to go with their careers. If you acknowledge an employee's career goals, you can create learning opportunities and challenges that help them get to where they want to go.

Why would you do this? I mean, isn't it counter-productive to be helping your employees to leave? Well, not really. Not everyone will want to be with the same company in the next five years and that is okay. A lot of industries in fact, have high turnover of staff because they are naturally a stop-gap or stepping stone for lots of people who are working towards something else. Retail is the perfect example of this. The thing is, that if you take the time to help your employees grow and you are encouraging them towards their career goals, they will usually pay you back by being hard-working, loyal employees and will generally provide you with more notice and the opportunity to provide a handover when they do decide it is time to move on.

Stand by your values.

Yep, I am harping on about values again. But hopefully you are starting to see just how your personal values are weaved through every aspect of your life and career. As we have discussed, managing a team can be extremely challenging and you will encounter employees who will deliberately push your buttons. This is where it is absolutely imperative that you stand by your values. Allow your values to keep you warm at night, my friend, you might need it.

Of course, it isn't going to be the case for everyone, but if you are a little on the sensitive side (like me!) then you will need something to hold onto to remind you who you are, what you believe in and how you deserve to be treated. I would be lying to you if I told you that I didn't cry a tear in my time as a manager. I cried. There were tears. But it was all part of my own learning experience. I have had a few staff members over the years who have challenged me, but each time, I have grown stronger and have been more confident in pushing back when someone steps on my values.

Set clear expectations.

In the same way that you want to be clear about the objectives you are working towards, you should also set clear expectations for performance and behaviour. Sometimes this can be a struggle when managing a team, and not setting expectations up front can cause difficulties down the track.

Is it acceptable for your employees to text you when they are too sick to come to work, or do you insist on a phone call? Are you happy for your employees to manage their own working hours or are there set hours they need to be in the office? Do you have expectations around performance levels? What is your policy on swearing? Communicate your expectations to your staff so that there is no confusion.

Make time for team building.

Team building is so important. Think about it. Your team members spend forty hours a week together - often more time than they get to spend with their own families - so isn't it easier if everyone gets along? When I was managing a team, I prioritised team building and made a consistent effort to ensure that team relationships were strong.

The great thing about team building is that it doesn't have to be hard. Take some time out to have a morning tea, acknowledge someone's birthday, celebrate a team win or simply just have a laugh. Some employees may not be interested in socialising outside of work (I am usually one of these people because I prefer to introvert at home) but offering the opportunity is at least a step in the right direction. Trust me. Managing a team is so much more rewarding and productive when everybody plays nice.

Discuss performance regularly.

Performance reviews are not the only time that you have to discuss performance. In fact, they shouldn't be. Performance is something that you should be discussing with your team members regularly. Like daily, weekly, monthly and so on. I am not talking specifically about formal performance discussions, but if you have feedback for your team, you should share it and likewise, be willing to accept feedback from your employees in return.

Think about it like this. When you do hold a formal performance review, you should not be raising any new information. Nothing should be a surprise. Everything that is discussed in a formal performance review should have been discussed previously. It is just good management. Why wait up to 12 months to provide feedback when you can do it today? Get it?

Consider culture fit when hiring.

My final tip today is to consider culture fit when hiring. I know, you have probably been taught to hire the person who is the most qualified for the role, but if that person is not a good fit for your team, then you are guaranteeing yourself problems down the track. Skills can be taught, but attitude and personality can't.

When I was managing a team, I grew it largely through employee referrals. It seemed natural to me to bring people into the fold who I already knew would get along with my team - who worked very hard but also played together after hours.

You don't have to be quite as extreme as this, but you should consider your team's vibe (or the vibe that you want your team to have) when you are thinking of bringing on a new employee.

I hope my management tips have been helpful to you. Do you have any other suggestions for being happy and successful in a people management role? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Becca xo

Managing a team is a balancing act between achieving results, making sure your team members are happy and finding your own fulfilment. It truly is an art form. Find out how to do it all in this post ~ Pop Your Career
Managing a team is an art form! Follow these tips to ensure you are a successful (and happy) manager! ~ Pop Your Career


About the Author


Bec McFarland is an experienced HR practitioner, manager, career coach and the creator of Pop Your Career. She delights in sharing practical, straight to the point career advice, spending time with her family and eating Mexican food.

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