Monday, February 18, 2013

Welcome to management! Now go build a team!

Your job, besides making your boss look really, really, really good, is all about how to leverage your own skills across your entire team, ultimately leading to highly productive results. You need them working together nicely, feeling empowered and trusted, being participative and motivated, and basically all rowing happily in the right direction.

Most of the time, upon reaching your management position, you will be picking up an existing team. In that case, you'll have some work to do to determine your team’s strong and weak points, then act appropriately. But, if you are getting the chance to form your team from scratch, you have an excellent opportunity to “stack the deck” and get a huge jump on overall project success.

There are many considerations when putting your team together. Obviously, the biggest factors will revolve around the basic skills and experience you’ll need. There can be a tendency for candidates to get excluded if they lack direct, applicable past experience. But, if you only consider that experience, you’ll be overlooking other key characteristics that could ultimately prove more valuable to you.

I have seen some folks walk into positions in areas that they’ve had no previous experience in, whatsoever. I’ve seen some of these guys working in different industry verticals, doing jobs they’ve never done before, and had no training or education in. And, I’ve seen them be totally successful at it. How?

Raw, freaking intelligence, that’s how. I mean, what do we really learn in school anyway? We learn how to learn. Incredibly smart people know how to assimilate needed information, apply basic processes that exist in every job there is, work as part of a team, and produce results. Especially in the case of hiring someone to do management work, it’s much more important for a manager to be able to lead his folks than it is for him to be able to sit down and actually do his peoples’ work on any given day. He’ll learn enough, over time, to have discussions at an appropriate level of detail such that he’ll be able to help the team be its most productive. Give me a smart, natural leader anytime.

For whatever you need in a team, find the smartest people you can, with experience as reasonably close to what you need them to do as possible, and surround yourself with them until you’re drowning in them (or you run out of budget). They will shock you with their ability to pick up the tasks at hand and generate great results for you.

Aaron Sorkin, writer/creator of The West Wing, Studio 60, A Few Good Men, and numerous other successful movies and shows, had a great line from a management character in one of his earliest shows, SportsNight
“If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.”
That line resonated with me as I’ve always appreciated my team members being willing to have a different opinion than my own. Whether your team members act as simple “yes men” or simply echo back what they think you want to hear will depend on how you train them. As discussed earlier, look for every opportunity to suck someone’s brain dry before you let him know what your own opinion might be. And be sure to positively reinforce efforts by your staff to give you options and play “devil’s advocate” for you from time to time. One of my favorite recent bosses was fond of saying, “If you always agree with me, what do I need you for?” Fortunately, he didn’t say that to me… too much…

Keep in mind that folks who will disagree with you will usually tend to be on the boisterous side. That should come through in interviews. Or, if this is an internal candidate, others might tell you that he’s, “a troublemaker”, “heavily opinionated”, or “never wants to go along.” Please contemplate the possibility that those comments could be considered as good things! Once you hear about some specific examples, you might be willing to kill to get this guy. And he will probably find himself in a refreshing and complementary environment that he hasn’t experienced prior.

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