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Learning to Successfully Manage Teams and Delegate Work

  • November 4, 2002
  • By Sanjay Murthi
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New to the Job?

Many new managers and supervisors find it a strange new experience. Instead of just being responsible for one's work, now one is responsible for the work done by others. There is a strong tendency to have little faith in others' abilities and sometimes less faith in oneself to manage others and get things done. Many times we retreat back to the familiar and try to do all things ourselves. While this may work or appear to work in the short run, in the long term it is a sure path to disaster. Being able to successfully delegate work and ensure that it is done with a minimum of fuss is crucial for any management role. Managers and supervisors are not measured based on their individual contributions but on the contributions of their team. So, even if you put in the longest hours, if your team is proceeding nowhere you are in trouble! On the flip side, a successful supervisor will be able to enthuse their teams and help them successfully complete tasks without too much heartburn and overtime.

How does one go about being successful in delegating work? In my experience both as a new manager and as an experienced hand guiding other new managers, this can be one of the hardest things to learn and do. Not only does one need to learn to hand over control, one also has to ensure that one's team is ready for these responsibilities. It is effectively a double challenge.

Seven Steps to Meeting the Challenge

  1. Identify team goals: Meet with your supervisors to understand what you will be responsible for and how you and your team will be measured. One way to get a good handle on this is to write it down. List the important goals and measurements to be used and get agreement from them. This will make it easier later on when you have to do performance reviews as well as decide and possibly fight for bonuses and increases for yourself and your team.
  2. Identify team strengths and weaknesses: Meet individually with each team member to get an idea of their strengths and weaknesses. Also, get an idea of the management styles they work well with.
  3. Build enthusiasm and team spirit: Once you have a good idea of what is needed, get the team together for a meeting. Ideally, you should try to do this offsite where people are less likely to be interrupted. The idea is to get everyone on the same page and ensure that each member in the team understands what his/her goals and responsibilities are. Ask people for ideas on how things could be made to work; decide problem escalation paths and status reporting. The aim is to get buy-in and ensure that everyone agrees with how things should be done.

    One of your major responsibilities will be to ensure that these rules are followed and that they work. Also, get agreement on contingency plans if things do not happen as expected. You may need to change certain agreements and relationships based on how the team performs. Remember that, as far as senior management is concerned, YOU ARE responsible for making things work. Make sure that the team understands this—they will be more willing to support you when you need to make the tough decisions. On a regular basis, try to get the team to do something fun together, especially after meeting major goals or milestones. You can juice up the competitive spirit by giving recognition and small gifts to those who did something exceptional. You may want to get the team to vote on those they think did exceptional things and kept up the team spirit.
  4. Identify your replacement: This may sound odd; after all, you have just taken over. The idea is to find someone, ideally within the team, who can take charge when you are out sick or on vacation. Based on people's participation in the team, their experience, willingness, and so on, you should be able to identify good candidates within the team. In my experience, asking someone not on the team to be your replacement may not work well. They will not be so familiar with team dynamics, the history, and so on. Plus, they may have other responsibilities that will take up most of their time.
  5. Train the team: Start grooming those identified to act as your replacements to take on more responsibility. Some ways are to create sub-teams that they are responsible for. Also, try to make every team member take on more responsibility and control over his or her work. This will build their confidence as well as make them enjoy their work more. Some people will take to this like ducks to water while on the other extreme it can be very scary to people who are more used to top-down management that clearly defines what they can and cannot do. However, when working on software projects, and especially when using agile methods, it is very important that each team member is very self-directed and responsible for their work. After all, people are not producing widgets on an assembly line!
  6. Be very proactive in finding and handling problems: Try to have regular meetings with the team on a daily or at least weekly basis. One of the great ideas from the SCRUM methodology is the daily SCRUM meeting that gives one a good idea of project status and problems. However, one should keep them as short as possible because people resent taking time off from doing their work, especially when deadlines loom. Keep an eye out for conflicts within and between teams. Act fast to nip them in the bud. Sometimes, these are misunderstandings that can be quickly cleared. At other times, you may need to move people around if two of them have opposing work styles and find it hard to work with each other.
  7. Plan ahead: One thing to watch out for is changes or other situations that can affect the team. Examples could be staff cutbacks, need for additional staff, new projects, project cancellations, and so on. Try to get in the loop to find out what may be coming down the line. Try to meet with folks in other groups and departments and understand more about their jobs and challenges. This will give you an idea of what is important for the organization as well as help you identify new opportunities where you and your team could help.

Conclusion

For new supervisors, it can be quite a challenge to figure out what they need to do to keep things humming along. One of the toughest obstacles to overcome will be yourself—you now have to trust other people to do the work. Another challenge will be to effectively verify that the work is done while providing support and encouragement to your team. The seven-step process outlined above should help you become more comfortable and effective. Good luck!

Copyright © 2002 Sanjay Murthi

Author Information:

Sanjay Murthi is President of SMGlobal Inc. He has over fourteen years of experience in the software industry in a variety of roles and responsibilities. He now helps companies to review and improve their software definition, development and delivery process. He can be contacted at smurthi@smglobal.com.





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