When thinking back over my career so far, I’ve come to notice certain events that stand out from all the others. Some of those events involve being stressed. Periods of intense stress, in fact, that had me sleeping poorly, thinking about work continuously and feeling anxious for prolonged periods.
Surprisingly, the times when I experienced the most stress were *not* during the most high profile projects, tight deadlines or when dealing with the most senior people. The times that the stress felt most pronounced was, without question, when I lacked support from my manager at a time when there was significant pressure.
It didn’t matter whether I was leading or working in a team, the stress resulting from a lack of support was intense. There were also periods where there was a lot of pressure, but I never felt nearly as vulnerable. Why? Because I had a leader who was supporting me at the time.
I’ve written about understanding your team’s sources of stress before. Make no mistake, lack of support from you, as their leader, is one of them.
6 ways to support your team
Supporting your team is so important to making them feel safe. Not in the way that a parent might, but by taking away their feelings of vulnerability. You want to support your team by removing the thought that:
“It’s all up to me and I don’t know if I’m capable of doing it.”
To remove the fear and stress of this thought pattern, you need to support your team. You need to reassure your team members that they’re capable and instil a feeling that you, as a team, are in it together.
1. Support your team by reviewing their work frequently
Don’t be a seagull manager, only interacting with your team when there is a crisis. Don’t leave your team working on the big report for two months and then review it right at the end. Be sure to check in with your team early and often.
You will be able to notice any issues early, in time for course correction. Leaving your team to work unsupervised until you come in and rip their deliverable to shreds is a recipe for increased stress and failure. Schedule regular checkpoints and meetings to gauge how your team members are progressing. Get them in the calendar early, so everyone can see that you have thought ahead.
2. Support your team by standing up for them
Sometimes, people will attack your team during the course of work life. Whilst it is important that you try to understand the root cause of any issues, your default stance should be that you have your team’s back.
Of course, you can’t just ignore any issues your team may have caused and blindly support them. However, your team needs to see that you are willing to stick up for them, when needed. If your team sees you back off or contradict them at the first sign of conflict, they’ll begin to feel exposed and vulnerable.
3. Support your team by communicating accountability
When you delegate accountability for a deliverable or function of your team, it needs to be communicated clearly. The worst thing you can do is tell your team member that they are accountable, but not tell anybody else. This puts your team member in a situation where they have to convince others that they are in charge. It becomes difficult because they have no real positional authority. They only have authority as bestowed by you.
Have you ever tried to tell people that you are in charge of something, coming from a position of no formal authority? It’s not easy. So make it easy for your team member when you delegate accountability to them. Tell the team member they are accountable. Then tell the people they are working with. This removes a lot of power struggle infighting that can occur as part of delegating accountability.
4. Support your team by setting standards
Working in a team without any set standards is difficult for everybody. It’s difficult for the leader, because the team members will produce variable outcomes. It’s difficult for team members because they don’t have direction.
You need to support your team by setting standards for the foundation of the work that you do. If your team works on technical tasks, make sure baseline technical standards are in place. On creative tasks, standardise the systems or process of work, rather than the creative output.
Use templates, rules and methodologies to set a framework. This removes ambiguity and provides more guidance for your team. You’ll start to see less variability in the quality of work produced and they’ll spend time on the work, rather than wondering exactly how to do the work. This will indirectly increase their confidence and give them some “guard rails” to follow.
5. Support your team by being available
Some leaders are out and about continuously and difficult to contact. Sometimes this is the nature of their position. Regardless, you need to ensure that you provide your team with frequent opportunities to engage with you.
Set times when you will be available for questions or clarification and stick to them. Make yourself available. I know, you’re super important. I don’t care. Make yourself available to your team so they have opportunities to discuss and confirm things with you.
You may think that you are showing trust by allowing your team just to “get on with it” without you. Your team may just feel like you’re an absent leader who doesn’t care and will hang them out to dry when the going gets tough.
6. Support your team by up-skilling them
A team that isn’t learning is likely to be stagnating. Teams that aren’t given opportunities to develop their skills may suffer from a lack of confidence in their ability to perform at their best.
It’s up to you to provide opportunities to learn, whether it be through mentoring, formal training or on the job experience. Targeting specific areas where team members are lacking confidence is a good starting point.
Cross-skilling your team is also very important. Cross-skilling is the process of spreading skills and experience throughout your team. This eliminates the problem of “Tim is the only person who knows anything about this and he resigned.” Oops.
Cross-skilling also allows your team members to consult with colleagues to collaboratively solve problems, rather than feeling like they’re the only person who can understand them.
Unsupported team members are stressed team members. If you want your team to run efficiently and produce high quality work, you’ll need to delegate. Delegation is extremely stressful if you fail to support your employees at the same time.
You need to remove the feelings of vulnerability and exposure that some of your team members will feel when tackling significant tasks or dealing with senior people. When a team member seems stressed, think about how you may be contributing to this problem. It is usually not because they are “weak” or “ineffective”, it usually begins with the leadership.