In this blog post SSI staff share their tips for team leads on how to look after their team.
Checking in with your team
Set regular meetings to check in with your team - you can check with team members what frequency they prefer to maintain communication without removing independence.
Actively listen to what your team members have to say. Try to be totally present - if you are meeting online because one or both or you are working from home then do your best to reduce distractions around you.
Don’t just talk about work! Something as simple as asking how someone’s weekend was can go a long way to establishing a positive working relationship. You’ll often also pick up on any issues they are having outside of work which may be affecting them.
Celebrate successes and provide constructive feedback. Constant evaluation of your team’s performance (whether positive or with room for improvement) can help identify issues which may otherwise fall through the cracks.
Understand and appreciate that there are many different ways of working and approaching tasks, that people have things going on in their lives, and that everyone deals with them differently.
Dealing with workload
Let the team know that they can speak to you about workload issues - don’t assume that they will know they can speak to you about this, people come at this from different lived experiences, cultures and generations.
Also make time to have a conversation about workload and time-consuming work. Don’t assume - let them speak.
Project priorities can be quite dynamic and can change - it’s good to explore what the current priorities are, even if this means talking to current stakeholders (e.g. key people and projects the person is working with) to better understand whether scheduling can help solve the problem. Often scheduling is not the issue, even though it should be the first point of call. It is often necessary to either decide to delay or stop low priority tasks, or support the staff member when it comes to deciding what they can and cannot do. This works if they have too much to do or if they are being asked to do something new on top of their existing work.
Provide your input regarding priority and deadlines – the focus on a task which should be a priority can sometimes be lost when there are many plates spinning. Often there are tasks that can be delayed with low impact, but team members may not feel they have the authority to make that decision themselves.
Give an overview of the team’s plan and how it fits within the scope of the organisation if possible. Understanding how tasks and deadlines work in relation to other colleagues’ workloads and the organisation’s goals can help determine what needs to be done when and what can wait.
Dealing with conflict
The first thing to do is to find out both sides of the story - unless it’s clear and you know the people and situation - getting half the story won’t help clear a conflict.
Where does the conflict lie - is it in the team, between the team and someone external, or is the team member ok but sitting in a project where there is conflict? Should the issue be resolved by the team member/s or does a manager need to act as a mediator? In a wider project context it’s about navigating to where the authority lies and who can help resolve the conflict.
One’s instinct should be to support the team member, but they could be in the wrong - one has to be supportive while keeping an open mind.
Dealing with bias
Accept bias exists - whether conscious or subconscious. We often gravitate towards people who talk like us, think like us, look like us, etc. - check yourself and highlight this fact in the team. Does your workplace offer unconscious bias training that you and your team can take or have a dignity at work policy you can read? Perhaps there is an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) group who can offer training. Adopting and encouraging a growth mindset will benefit yourself and your team.
Bias can cause a good team member to be unfairly tarnished with some bad characteristics - sometimes this judgement can form by criteria unknowingly being more harshly applied to them than to others. Alternatively one can be beguiled by someone who ‘talks the talk’ and time can pass before you realise that very little has actually been delivered. Focus on your team members’ results - look at tangible points of performance like what they have delivered and how they are working with others.
Pointing team members towards where to go if they experience discrimination can be helpful, and letting people know about institute networks (e.g. BAME, LGBTQ+, disabled) can support and show openess.
Dealing with health issues
People get sick - how you deal with people who get sick and when they get sick says a lot about your organisation and you as a person. Hopefully if there was a silver lining to some of the pandemic, it’s that working through things when you are sick is no longer seen as a good approach. Going into the workplace with a communicable disease is less accepted now, but people should still be encouraged to take sick leave to recover rather than working from home when they are ill.
To best support team members who are struggling with mental health issues there need to be open channels of communication so they feel able to have a conversation with you about this. You should be able to discuss their needs and any appropriate reasonable adjustments that can be made to support them - a wellness action plan is useful for structuring this conversation.
Health first rather than work first is the most sustainable model for dealing with health issues that arise - as apart from being the most humane it actually mirrors reality. If you show kindness, compassion and aid in helping people through periods of bad health (physical or mental) the loyalty and appreciation shown can far outweigh any help offered in many cases.