Being the leader of a team that works to complete an important project can be one of the most pivotal moments in your tenure at a company. Stakes are high – you need to impress your boss, govern your peers, and produce a result that meets or exceeds expectations.

While you may feel equipped to complete the project at hand, managing a group of coworkers will present challenges you would never encounter from working as a peer alongside the same group. 

No matter who the coworkers are and what the project is about — you’re the leader. Leadership strategies for work environments are universal, and can turn your team from a disorganized frenzy into a well-oiled machine. 

Here are some of the best steps to take to manage your team.

1. Create an outline

One of the most common ways a team will begin a meeting is by immediately calling dibs on different tasks. This isn’t a good idea, since the focus should be on goals and how the project will be completed instead of who shoulders the work. 

Usually, a project that’s assigned its own group is too large and nuanced an undertaking to be summarized in a few concrete steps. Thus, you should take the time to determine as many moves and plans as you can from the get-go, waiting until a general image of the whole process has been realized to assign responsibility.

This both defends against any efforts to skirt an equal percentage of work and lets the group collaborate to tweak the outline without bias, since they haven’t claimed different pieces of the plan. Once the outline is finished, you’ll have a clear picture of the path to success and an easier time envisioning the workload.

2. Delegate tasks according to experience

Dividing up a project’s assignments can be the most daunting part of the whole operation. The outcome of the project can be greatly influenced by which member gets which responsibility.

As the leader, letting your team members try to select their jobs is the least efficient way to run a project. Instead, use a method that’s objective: delegating assignments based on the skills, expertise and interests of each person. 

An aspect of the project that involves selling to a client should be assigned to the team member with the most success in sales. If finances need to be tracked, give the job to someone with accounting experience. Using a team based software platform that includes employee profiles can really help to drive success with cross functional team projects. You are able to easily search through team members to get a full idea of their strengths.

When you closely match tasks to the workers most suited for them, you’ll find yourself with a high chance of success and a satisfied team. Arguments will be avoided, and each person will feel more comfortable taking charge of an assignment in their wheelhouse.

Of course, you’ve still got to balance the actual workloads relatively fairly. If the project is 80% sales, it can’t all fall to the sales guru.

3. Establish means of communication

Without consistent communication, team projects have limited success. In this case, there are two types of communication: meetings (in person or via webcam) and text-based. 

As far as text-based conversation goes, you may want to leave emails behind – they can be slow, and we all know how confusing an email chain of 4+ people can get. Determine which messaging apps work most easily between everyone, whether it be through Slack, Google Hangouts, or even Facebook Messenger.

Meetings should be the core of your taskforce. Right away, you should work with your team to figure out the best times to meet up, likely once a week. Even if you’re consistently in touch in between, meetings are essential to get everyone on the same page and to look ahead to further progress.

A solid way to run a meeting is by spending the first half reviewing the week’s accomplishments and patching up any misunderstandings, and using the second half to set goals for the upcoming week. 

When it comes to your presence managing the meeting, find the leadership style that works for you. Much more has been written on leadership techniques than can fit in this article, but as long as you can ensure each member’s consistent progress, your style is yours to choose.

4. Develop a mini-culture

While effort is often put in to create a distinct culture in a company work environment, that atmosphere can be lost when a smaller group collaborates. If you don’t feel that your workplace’s culture has carried over to your project team, you should reinforce it – or even create your own.

Whether meeting in person or using online software, this project is your arena to create the climate you feel is the most compatible with the assignment. Develop some tenets of your culture; these could include an emphasis on constant improvement, a focus on thorough updates, or a dedication to helping one another.

Through most of the last decade, Google has extensively researched work group dynamics and studied teams in their own company in an initiative named Project Aristotle. Among other things, this study revealed that a team environment that ensures psychological safety, e.g. a forgiving atmosphere where risks are encouraged and mistakes are forgiven, yields the best results.

The right culture will help a taskforce bond and act as a catalyst to their production. Engage your team with the right values and you’ll foster a community of success.

5. Set up a base camp for updates

It’s tough to visualize progress without being able to… well, visualize progress. Whether finished tasks come in the form of documents, spreadsheets, or simple verbal updates, make sure to find a place to sort it all out so you can check boxes and branch off.

Google Drive and Microsoft Sharepoint are generally the go-tos for such collaborative programs, but perhaps your project isn’t very file-based. If so, you could simply create a document with a list of tasks and empty space for team members to detail their progress. If you’re meeting in person, you could even use an office whiteboard.

6. Help. Each. Other.

Even if communication is consistent, project teams will too often find themselves off on their own struggling to figure out exactly how to work with the task assigned to them. Before you know it, one piece of the puzzle is far from placed because someone just wanted to handle it on their own.

Make it clear that everyone (especially you) should be available to reach across the aisle and give some assistance. It’s true that everyone’s busy with their own tasks, but between a group of people, some extra time is always laying somewhere.

Oftentimes, the extra help someone needs can be summarized in a quick paragraph; maybe the person didn’t understand one facet of their task, or simply can’t find a file. There’s a reason you’re called a team – you’ve got to work together, even if everyone has a different assignment. Help each other out, keep in touch, and you’ll be able to complete the project efficiently and holistically.

7. Celebrate accomplishments

Whether you’ve made it past a critical stage or finished the entire project, your team should allow themselves moments for congratulations. Recognize members with praise when they’ve successfully completed their week’s task – show them you’re proud of their progress! Motivation is pivotal to any work culture, and when you’re the leader, that responsibility falls to you.

Google’s Project Aristotle also revealed that emotional connections have a surprising weight when it comes to team productivity; personally cheering your coworkers on has quantitative results.

When your team has finished the entire assignment, go all out. Feel free to spend money, whether on food, gifts, or games. If you’ve been operating remotely to this point, consider a get-together. You could also pass around an online survey to get feedback on how your group wants to celebrate, and tailor it to what they’re interested in. 

Acknowledging success is an essential piece of management at any scale. It helps build culture, motivate, and truly show gratitude to the people who’ve put in the work. Rewarding your team for a great job done will also impress your boss — and perhaps inspire them to do the same.

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