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Five common mistakes made by team managers and how to avoid them


At long last, you have been promoted to lead a team. Veronica Broomes imparts some words of advice to make the most of your team - and yourself.
Being promoted is a great achievement, but could become quite stressful and disastrous if unprepared. In a recent survey (early 2011) of current and former employees working in the banking and financial services firms in the UK, team leaders and team members revealed 17 reasons why some newly-appointed managers are not effective in getting the best from their teams. Here are five common mistakes made by managers in banking and financial services firms and advice on how these can be avoided or resolved.

Mistake one: Poor communication

Poor communication can manifest itself in numerous ways. For example, a newly appointed manager may not provide clear direction to members of the team on what is expected of each member, the shared goals towards which the team should be working and the timeframe for achieving them. Failure to communicate such information in a timely manner can lead to low overall performance of the team, different factions of the team working on different agendas to the needs of the business or even much time wasted in correcting simple but significant errors.
"When eroded self-confidence is severe, managers can find that they are reluctant to delegate to their teams, have less confidence in their judgment and decision-making power."
In some firms, poor communication is often a sign of a culture of blame among staff and a workplace plagued with mistrust and conflict. This in turn can result in managers who previously were highly capable and effective becoming demoralised and feeling low in self-confidence.
When eroded self-confidence is severe, managers can find that they are reluctant to delegate to their teams, have less confidence in their judgment and decision-making power. The latter can be seen in delays in decision making or inaction in extreme situations.

How to avoid mistake one:

  • Arrange to meet very early in your appointment with all members of your team, as a group (and individually, depending on the size of the team) will enable managers to share the overall team goals, provide an update on the needs of the business and the contribution expected of the team and, very importantly, answer questions and provide clarification for all team members. It is an opportunity also to identify members of the team that may be resistant to any impending change and to begin understanding personalities and strengths among members of your team. However, be wary of "pigeonholing" members of your team into stereotypes as this could be divisive and harmful, both in the short and long term.
  • Be clear in explaining how you see yourself working with your team and what you expect from each member of the team. In sharing your vision, let each person understand that you are seeking to build a team, not working with a group of individuals.

Mistake two: Being unprepared

Once an appointment has been approved and terms of the role agreed, new managers can increase their effectiveness in the new role and reduce the cost of "errors" by taking earlier and timely action to bridge the gap between their current skillset and what is required in the new role.
Managers who prepare well and continue to review their performance, remain open to receiving feedback, and take action when necessary, are more likely to have teams where talent is nurtured, skills retained, and have fewer days lost through absence or have demoralised teams merely counting the hours to end of the week.

High performing and high achieving managers in well-balanced teams are more likely to leave a trail that can be followed and developed into even more effective routes to success in realising business goals.

How to avoid mistake two:

  • Become familiar with the objective or purpose of the department you will be managing. Speak with others who were part of the team previously - including previous managers and those who are part of the present team to find out what they consider to be the strengths of the team and what they think can be done to make the team more effective.
  • Review whether or not you have the relevant skills to manage the team. A simple way of reviewing your skillset is to undertake your own self-assessment. This can be done using a SWOT analysis or GAP analysis. In this way you can assess if skills you developed in your current and previous roles will be enough to make you an effective team leader. This in turn will help you decide which skills you need to develop more urgently, especially those you can acquired through training and/or coaching. Register for relevant training courses or begin working with your own executive coach or mentor.

Mistake three: Setting unrealistic timescales

Setting unrealistic time scales for completion of a project can happen when you do not understand the magnitude of the project and have not framed/scoped it appropriately. This is often a reflection of your own poor time management and/or a failure to identify your key targets and challenges likely to be faced in achieving them.
When joining a team you have not worked with before, either because it's a different company or from another part of the business where you are employed, find out about key challenges faced by the team over the past six months. Ask members of your team how they think those could have been resolved.

How to avoid mistake three:

  • Do not set up members of your team for failure. If you do not understand the scope of the task you have given members of your team, by setting unrealistic time-frames you are setting your team up for failure.
  • When there are urgent and important tasks to be completed, ensure you set out clearly what is required and provide the resources necessary to ensure timely completion. This may mean that you sub-divide a priority project into a number of tasks that can be completed by different members of the team working to very clear timelines. Your role will be to ensure you have updates at agreed timelines, identify unexpected problems and resolve those immediately.

Mistake four: Poor time management

In the early stages of a new role, some managers are reluctant to relinquish those jobs they enjoy doing and feel they are experts at performing effectively. What this means is that they spend less time providing guidance and being available for members of their team. This can lead not only to missed deadlines but team members feeling undervalued and not trusted by their team leader.
Recognise that as a manager, your responsibility to the business and the team is to harness the resources to deliver on time and to budget. It is not to show what a great achiever you are as an individual, even to the detriment of the business and the demoralisation of your team.
"Recognise that as a manager, your responsibility to the business and the team is to harness the resources to deliver on time and to budget."
Some managers struggle with delegation, not only because they enjoy doing a specific task, but they feel guilty about asking others to do what they consider to be "their job". Managers who understand that delegation is part of their job, and they do not need to have guilt trips. On the other hand, there are managers who delegate tasks to members of their team and take the credit for the work done. That too is not delegation. It reflects dishonesty in a team leader and can lead to demoralisation of team members when they see that they are not recognised for their efforts. While it is not appropriate in all situations for the names of all who have contributed to a task to be included, the effort of the team or individuals in the team should be acknowledged.

How to avoid mistake four:

  • Be prepared to delegate. Delegation should not be only for those tasks you do not enjoy, it should be for any task that can be done by others and will contribute to team success.
  • Be prepared to say no to requests that you could not possibly complete in the required timeframe. In some instances, saying no can result in you negotiating a more realistic timeframe for completion of the task or additional resources being identified to enable completion for urgent requests. In so doing, you are able to demonstrate you are a capable and effective manager and understand how to manage resources to achieve overall business goals and team performance. 

Mistake five: Displaying poor interpersonal skills

Triggered by a strong desire to wield power and need to demonstrate newly-acquired authority, some newly appointed managers/team leaders invest much time initially to work on outperforming their predecessor and to charter a course that will contribute to their legacy. Thankfully, anecdotal information and research publications suggest that "power-hungry" and "snake in suits" managers are not representative of the majority of newly-appointed managers.
Taking an autocratic and somewhat aggressive approach to management has led new leaders to reduce the level effectiveness shown previously by members of the team, trigger feelings of low team morale and, eventually, damage the reputation of the business. Managers who see promotion as an opportunity to wield power can erode their own success as they risk losing credibility in the long term.
Strong interpersonal skills include both listening and influence. Being unable to use these in a sensitive manner can result in more conflict and resistance in teams instead of higher performance.

How to avoid mistake five:

  • Be clear about the stage of development of the team you are about to lead. Is it forming, storming, norming performing or adjourning? This will ensure you prioritise how you support your team.
  • Consider what you can do to improve your listening skills. For example, undertake training in effective communication skills or join a club dedicated to improving communication skills.

In conclusion

As a manager, your ability to predict likely mistakes and to identify ways of avoiding them will give you a headstart in getting up to speed quite quickly and empowering your team to even higher levels of performance. If you have several months' advance notice of your new appointment, you can use the time to do your research to find out more about the targets identified for the business in general, and your team in particular; while this information is not readily accessible or may change because the priorities of the business will change, you can make a list of the five key questions you will want to ask your director in order to get clarity before you begin the role.
Being prepared and taking timely action before and in the early stages of your role as a team leader can help you avoid five of the common mistakes made by newly appointed mangers in banking and financial services firms.
Veronica Broomes is a trainer, executive coach and mentor at management training specialist Talent Management in Teams, and looks at how managers, including those newly appointed to manage teams or facilitate change can be more effective as team leaders.

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