Managing teams effectively is a massive hurdle, but what happens when the size of your team suddenly doubles? Or even grows to the size of a small town? Managers frequently find themselves with growing teams and struggle to overcome common leadership challenges along the way.
Most everyone has had an experience dealing with a bad manager, but the importance of the manager-employee relationship goes far beyond just avoiding daily anxieties. One recent survey found over 90% of employees reported this connection is a critical factor when determining whether to remain at their current position.
Throughout my career, I’ve gone from leading organizations of all sizes -- from 80 all the way to 8,000 -- and have seen what the managers of the most successful teams have in common. What I’ve found is that these similarities can be pinned down into five simple behaviors:
1. Set the direction
Managers should take different priorities into consideration at every point of a company’s lifecycle, but it always starts with the same first step: defining objectives and communicating company values. Employees look to managers and upper leadership as examples, so embodying the traits you wish to see should be the baseline for any manager.
2. The answer is not in the building
If you’re entering a new company or experiencing a boom of growth, it is critical to regularly be communicating the larger picture and long-term direction. However, this direction should not be solely influenced by internal factors. If the vision is only an internal one, it usually fails. A vision that puts the customer at the center is one that will succeed. The customer needs to be the most important stakeholder and the stakeholder that should be the inspiration to whatever direction you decide to take a company. The external stakeholder needs to be the one to inspire the direction.
3. Trust doesn’t transfer
As you move companies or positions, whatever trust or clout you’ve built in your old role does not necessarily transfer. You need to invest the time in each new role and with each new team to understand the organization and build loyalty from the ground up. I’ve learned the hard way, “don’t change it until you know it.” Get the data, get the input from the stakeholders and then make the change once you have the facts. You need to spend time getting to know a new organization before making any changes if you want them to be effective. You need to put in quality one-on-one time with individuals to communicate your core values and work style. For managers, we all have this dream of being that big-time executive who walks in with all the answers and waves a wand that fixes everything. I’ve seen managers try to do this, but I’ve never seen it done successfully.
4. Team or collective?
As managers begin to lead larger teams, a common challenge I’ve seen is they get so busy that they get stuck in a routine and forget to take a step back. As a leader you won’t succeed until you’ve built the right team and that needs to be a task that is front and center of everything you do. Especially at the beginning. As a manager I want to be seen as a sort of “facilitator-in-chief” that allows my team to use each of their individual strengths to create the strongest collective unit. In my career I’ve found that the book “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr and the system of OKRs (objectives and key results) have helped to make me a better facilitator so my team can do their best work.
5. Keep grounded
My first piece of advice is the thing that keeps me grounded to this day: If you want to be successful, you need to be curious, committed and humble. This is a mantra that I constantly check my behavior against, and it also directly ties into leading and building cohesive teams. Curiosity is a key hiring trait to look for when adding new talent, as curious people will be the ones who look for fresh ideas, volunteer for more responsibility and always look for how to improve. A big influence on my management style has also been to recognize the well-performing people around me and support their career trajectory in any way I can. By taking the time to mentor and give new opportunities to employees for professional growth, you can demonstrate you’re invested in their careers, which is a key motivator for overall performance and happiness.
Success is hard to measure because it isn’t something you stop pushing for or see as a finish line at the end. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to measure for progress. Establish a continuous lifecycle for measuring results by finding the baseline, acting and interpreting the results appropriately. Promoting this type of learning culture that always seeks to improve is critical for managers looking to lead organizations of any size.
Marc van Zadelhoff serves as LogMeIn’s COO, leading all customer-facing operations across LogMeIn’s entire portfolio, including sales, marketing and customer care, while driving go-to-market strategies that bridge LogMeIn’s complementary businesses and product lines to meet customers’ rapidly evolving needs. Prior to joining LogMeIn in 2018, he served as the General Manager for IBM Security, an IBM Business Unit comprising the technology giant’s entire global security portfolio.