3 Solutions to Conquer Team Management Challenges

There are compelling reasons why middle and upper-middle managers strive to conquer team management challenges.

Leaders who overcome these challenges will see their teams perform with less stress, greater satisfaction, and more consistency in delivering higher quality outcomes. This will enable leaders to have a greater impact on their business’ direction and strategy. And, they can make a stronger case for increasing their mandate and taking on additional opportunities.

Ultimately, leaders of well-managed teams do a better job of attracting and retaining talent than those of poorly managed teams. Members of poorly managed teams suffer from lower engagement and productivity, are more stressed, and prone to burnout. They’re also more likely to leave. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 4.2 million people quit their jobs in June, with poor management being one of the leading reasons employees cite for leaving their role.

Managers who effectively lead their teams succeed in these three distinct ways:

  1. Building employee engagement and satisfaction, increasing productivity, and getting more done.

  2. Driving collaboration and cross-training, which leverages specialization while improving versatility.

  3. Gaining scale and creating synergies that were previously unavailable to them.

Leadership Coaching Builds Team Management Skills

Leadership coaching concentrates on transforming managers into leaders. Its goal is to improve how you motivate and inspire a team, influence decision-making, and drive change.

So, who benefits most from leadership coaching for team management challenges?

  • Newly promoted individuals who are managing employees for the first time

  • Experienced leaders who are managing an expanded team or “managing managers”

  • Leaders who want to improve their skills in delegation, time management, or how they build trust, inspire, and motivate members of their team

The advantages of leadership coaching include:

  • Increasing your clarity and effectiveness

  • Gaining greater confidence to take on challenges and opportunities

  • Improving communication and your effectiveness with others

  • Building more productive and collaborative teams and partnerships

Team Management Challenges and Solutions

Challenge 1: Delegating Effectively and Scaling Yourself

Solution: Delegation is one of the most common challenges for leaders. It’s also one of the most critical leadership skills for you to develop if you want to boost your team’s and your own productivity.

It’s not unusual for leaders to struggle with control issues when they delegate. Many managers understand how too much control results in micromanaging, creating frustration and disempowerment in their team.

Leaders sometimes err the other way by saying they’ll fully empower their group to be self-sufficient and let them figure things out themselves. Over time, people feel abandoned due to unclear direction and lack of support. When the team fails to deliver, the manager believes they can’t trust their team to resolve issues or complete tasks independently. This leads them to overcorrect and resort to micromanaging.

Both situations erode trust.

Successful delegation is a balancing act that starts with identifying opportunities with well-defined rules, outcomes and parameters. You then consider:

  • Who’s available

  • How long it will take to complete the assignment

  • Required training

  • Is this a growth opportunity

  • Prioritization of the task vs. everything else on their plate

Once you know this, your next step is providing clarity and structure to the people doing the work. This includes establishing expectations and getting commitment and buy-in on:

  • What the task involves

  • Why it’s important

  • When it’s due

  • Project goals, including how success is being defined

  • To whom they’re responsible

  • The extent of their authority – Investigate and analyze, make a recommendation, decide within these limits, or take care of this.

  • Checkpoints and milestones

  • Available support and resources

Taking this customized, proactive approach to delegation builds on the talent of those involved, sets clear expectations and creates contingency plans in case progress stalls. It creates certainty around roles and balances empowerment with accountability.

Challenge 2: Managing Performance – Having Difficult Conversations

Solution: We’ve all been there, either on the giving or the receiving end of a difficult conversation.

Most of us don’t like delivering bad news. Letting someone know they’re falling short of expectations is uncomfortable for many managers. Whether it’s fearing a confrontation or upsetting your colleague, oftentimes these conversations are avoided until performance reviews are due.

When that happens, managers are often met with:

  • Denial – “This wasn’t my responsibility.”

  • Surprise – “I didn’t know this was important,” or “Why am I just hearing about this now?”

  • Accusation – “You saw how I struggled and didn’t do anything to help.”

These outcomes result from one or more of the typical mistakes that managers make:

  • Failing to set and secure buy-in for goals at the beginning of the year

  • Not defining what success looks like

  • Not meeting regularly to discuss performance, evaluate progress and tackle obstacles

  • “Telling and talking” vs. “asking and listening”

Do you see how the first three mistakes closely mirror ineffective delegation?

Effectively managing performance requires achieving buy-in and having ongoing conversations with your team members about project status and their performance. Schedule and meet with your team members on a consistent basis, at least once every two weeks. Make these topics standing agenda points for your one-on-ones.

This ensures alignment through the year, supports proactive intervention if things go off track and minimizes the risk of surprises at review time.

However, what if you set goals properly, defined success and met regularly to review progress but the person still fell short of expectations?

The conversation is one where you do more asking and listening than talking and telling.

The keys to a successful discussion lie in:

  • The questions you ask

  • The space you leave for response

  • Acknowledging and validating what you hear

  • Limiting judgment

  • Helping them move forward

When you’re assessing someone’s performance, personalize the feedback and keep it focused on their performance. Use a comment such as “focus on improving timely follow-up with your key partners because it’s critical to your success” aligns feedback with performance expectations.

Don’t make it “personal” by focusing on character. “You’re uncommunicative with your key partners” or “you’re too passive when reaching out to your partners” gives them the undesired label of being “uncommunicative” or “passive.”

Follow these steps for a performance management discussion, which will help your colleague maintain their self-esteem:

  • Ask them, “How do you feel you performed?” This will tell you right away if you’re on the same page or not.

  • Follow up with, “What stands out to you in terms of the most significant accomplishments or obstacles?”

  • Summarize and mirror back what they say. This confirms you heard them correctly in both their message and intention.

  • Listen for any rationalizing or justifying from them.

  • Turn their focus toward improving their future performance with “Feedforward.” Ask them to identify one performance area where they want to improve and where they would be willing to seek input from you and others for how to do so.

After they’ve chosen the area, offer some suggestions that they’re welcome to accept or decline. Have them repeat this with others whom they trust. The emphasis shouldn’t be on critiquing the past, but on building for an improved future.

As Marshall Goldsmith says, “rightly or wrongly, feedback is associated with judgment…While Feedforward…is more focused on being a helpful ‘fellow traveler’ than an ‘expert.’” It can be easier to hear and accept suggestions from this perspective, rather than one of power or authority.

Challenge 3: The “Manager Sandwich” – Pleasing Your Boss vs. Advocating for Your Team

Solution: One challenge, at any level of management, is balancing what feels like the competing or conflicting needs of your team, your boss or the broader organization. Usually, the conflict concerns aggressive deadlines, increased demands, diminishing resources or unrelenting iterations on a project. Your team expects you to push back. While the company and your boss expect you to get things done.

Leading Edge Coaching & Consulting calls this the “manager sandwich,” meaning you’re stuck in the middle with pressure from above and below.

If you’re a leader who’s a self-described “people pleaser”, this can be especially challenging.

This type of leader is driven to build harmonious relationships and primarily focused on making everyone happy. You may see these situations as ones where one side wins and the other loses (with you also on the losing side for letting someone down).

Seeing this as a win-lose situation limits your ability, curtails your flexibility and diminishes your power.

Rather than being constrained, recognize how this is another example of handling difficult conversations. It also plays into how you delegate and manage resources.

Navigating this effectively requires some political savvy that is not manipulative or disingenuous. Your success here will be geared to how well you know your level of autonomy and authority and others’ motivations and priorities

Having clarity on these factors spurs out of the box thinking, leads to supportive and honest conversations, and helps you act with confidence and empathy.

Here are proactive steps to take to get out of the “manager sandwich.”

  • Get absolutely clear about everything on your and your team’s plate. Know who’s doing what, who has capacity and what work can be reassigned or deprioritized.

  • Take an objective look at what’s causing the stress. Does your team need more training, time or headcount? Are you keeping your boss informed of all projects’ statuses? How aware are they that things are approaching a tipping point?

  • Be creative and think expansively – What individual or group is most appropriate to take on these assignments? How can reassigning tasks support development opportunities for others?

  • Propose one or more solutions or alternatives to your boss. Typically, they’ll be more open and willing to engage when you introduce a thoughtful approach vs. asking them to help you solve your problem.

Get Results from Leadership Coaching

The biggest team management challenges often revolve around achieving balance between how you manage tasks and navigate interpersonal relationships. You likely got to where you are based on the tasks you completed and the outcomes you delivered. It worked well when you were an individual contributor. But leading and building a high-performing team requires additional skills that exceed simply getting work done.

Leadership coaching helps managers master and apply these skills to increase their ability to develop a high-performing team that’s engaged, resilient and delivers results consistently regardless of circumstances.

Find out more about 4D Leadership & Executive Coaching by Leading Edge. Schedule a complimentary discovery call to discuss how it can support your growth and performance as a leader.