Work can become boring without development opportunities to help your team grow. Doing the same work every day can reduce team motivation, especially if you lead people who have aspirations to do greater things.
Some of the best leaders I have worked for provided me with opportunities to do different work, that stretched me and put me outside of my comfort zone. Unsurprisingly, that’s where I learned the most and gained the most confidence.
What Is a Development Opportunity?
A development opportunity allows team members to learn new skills, doing work that they may not have done before. It might mean working with different people, working on a project or taking on a different role in a team, either by helping where there is a shortage of resources, or if a vacancy opens up.
The first key aspect of a development opportunity is that your team member needs to be learning new skills and having new experiences outside of their normal role.
Next, the new work needs to be aligned with the career direction or interests of your team member. When development opportunities are aligned with the aspirations of your team member, they are more likely to be interested in taking it on.
Otherwise, they are just working on something different (which is nice for variety), but they don’t really care about improving their skills.
Having to learning new skills and have new experiences means you will “stretch” your team member. This will put them outside their comfort zone.
Development Opportunities Come With Risk
When you provide development opportunities to your team, there is almost always risk. First, you risk your team member feeling stressed and overwhelmed because they’ve never done the work before.
You run a real risk of failure to deliver, because you are putting an inexperienced person into a situation where a more experienced person would normally be. This comes with a reputation risk for you, because you’re putting your team member forward to take on the opportunity.
On top of this, your team member is at risk of becoming dissatisfied, especially if the development opportunity involves work that would normally pay more. At first, your team member won’t have the experience to demand the higher pay. Eventually, they’ll feel entitled to the extra benefits once they become comfortable with the work.
Lastly, because of the higher potential for failure during a development opportunity, your team member is at risk of losing confidence. If your team member struggles, they may lose confidence in their own ability. Sometimes, this confidence can take years to regain.
Risk Comes With Reward
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
The reason that development opportunities are so valuable is because of the rewards they bring. Here are some examples of the benefits of development opportunities for your team members:
- Improved motivation due to increased variety and interest in their work
- Learning new skills or taking on roles that will help to progress their career and can be added to their CV
- Increased confidence that comes from feeling “out of their depth”, but still succeeding; and
- An increased ability to handle different situations and become more resilient.
Development opportunities are a great way to really boost the skills, experiences and adaptability of your team members.
How to Provide Development Opportunities, Safely
Despite the risks involved, I love providing development opportunities to team members.
For me, the most satisfying aspect of leadership is helping people develop their skills and careers and watching them grow.
Sometimes, your team members might grow in confidence and skill so much that they leave your team to take on other opportunities.
For me, that’s part of the role of a leader and is just part of the fun!
The key to your people successfully taking on development opportunities is to help them to do it safely. Getting out of your comfort zone is great, but it’s a little safer when you have some guard rails to hold on to.
Let’s look at how you can do that for your team.
Selecting Development Opportunities
The best development opportunities are aligned with the team member’s interests or aspirations and are a “stretch”. That is, they require the person to learn new skills, have new experiences and feel at least a little out of their depth to complete the work.
However, the very best development opportunities are not just about your team members. They often also help leaders with heavy workloads or projects they can’t resource, by having their team members “step up” and take on the opportunity.
Don’t be fooled. Yes – you’re putting someone out of their comfort zone, having them work on something new and unfamiliar. There is a chance of failure. However, this does not mean the person is unsupported.
Let’s look at how to provide your team members with development opportunities, safely.
If you don’t get behind your team member 100%, then you’re setting them up to fail. You need to have confidence that they can succeed. Otherwise, your behaviour can show that you’re tentative or uncertain and this will reduce the confidence of your team member.
You need to create a positive self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to success, not sabotage. You can read more about that in the link below.
2. Ensure That the Development Opportunity Aligns to Your Team Member’s Career Direction
First and foremost, you need to ensure that the opportunity is something your team member wants. Remember – not everyone is like you.
Even if you think it’s a great opportunity, it doesn’t mean it is for them. Don’t force the opportunity if it’s not wanted. For this to succeed, you need your team member to be keen.
When your team member is keen and enthusiastic for the opportunity, they are more likely to strive harder, push themselves and succeed.
3. Make Sure There is Enough Support Available
Next, you need to ensure that support is available. Throwing somebody in the deep end with nobody to help increases the chance of failure.
Make yourself available to provide support. If you have senior people in your team who can also help, arrange this too.
Schedule in times to meet and see how your team member is going. Make sure you stick to them.
4. Handle Their Business as Usual Work
If you’re providing a development opportunity, you need to understand the workload involved. You can’t expect somebody to do their normal day job in addition to a new project. Something has to give.
Arrange for the team member’s normal work to be handled by others, or put on hold for a time. Whatever you do, don’t leave your team member to sort it out for themselves. They may take on too much, head for burnout and fail spectacularly.
That’s on you.
5. Communicate With Relevant People About the Development Opportunity
Communication is key when it comes to providing development opportunities and there are several key groups you need to consider.
Firstly, you need to make sure your support team are aware of the opportunity and that they are prepared to give their time to help.
Next, you need to make sure that anyone involved in your team member’s business as usual work are told about the change in their working arrangements. Otherwise, you’ll get people pulling at your team member from all directions, expecting them to do everything.
And lastly, if you are providing a development opportunity where your team member is stepping up into a higher role, you need to make that clear to the people relying on the work that needs to be done.
In other words, don’t pretend that your inexperienced team member has done this before. Tell people it’s a development opportunity and what support arrangements you’ve put in place to help them succeed.
Your stakeholders need to be comfortable too, because if they are relying on the work, they are also taking on risk.
Providing development opportunities can be one of the best things you do for your team. But only if you set them up to succeed, not to fail.
Follow the guidance above and see whether you can start carving out better ways for your team members to improve their skills and progress faster on their career path.
Have you provided development opportunities to your team? How did you go about it? What were the good, bad and ugly parts of providing them? Leave a comment below!