It is true that no one knows how to complete a task in your department like you do. You have worked hard all of your career to become a manager and built your team up around you to be successful. You, the manager, understand all of the component parts that come together to get things done. You live and breathe the work you do, which is why you can get things done faster than most.

When looking at the development of a team, understanding how team members go from the enthusiastic beginner right up to the most self-reliant achiever, the most common response when working with a group of managers on any development programme is ‘I can do it quicker’. This is what stunts the growth of a high performing team.

Some examples of how it is said:

  • We’re a successful team who work at a fast pace in order to meet performance targets
  • I’m able to perform many, if not all, of the various tasks of the department, so I like to set an example
  • It’s quicker to do the work, as you I the skills, knowledge and expertise
  • I can foresee potential problems that may arise
  • Showing them how to do it takes up too much time
  • I don’t have any spare time to train the team to do it

Have you said any of these?

The number one role of a manager in any organisation is to make their team better than them!

However, there are various stages that a team and individuals within the team must go through to get to be a High Performing team. Sadly, you doing the work stops them from progressing.

For example, you may find that your team has grown very quickly in a short amount of time. Subsequently, you can’t remember the last time you had a day off, let alone a holiday. As a result, you’re feeling overwhelmed with being the team manager. Your team members come to you with problems to solve and the best option is to give them the solution. The task they were performing gets completed, but your to do list gets bigger and bigger due to the amount of time you are spending giving solutions. With all good intentions, you are holding your team members back from reaching from being self-reliant.

Ask questions to develop self-reliant problem solving!

I have often said that the number one skill of any team manager is to ask questions. It is also the most underused skill. The main reason being all of those statements made above. The pace at which we work today does not allow the time for people to learn from what they are doing. As a manager, asking questions will allow team members to assess where they are up to and understand what skills they have to complete the task.

Example: A team member feels really great about her job in customer service. She gets great feedback. She has always been recognized for her exemplary customer service even though customers are more and more demanding. Today she is faced with a situation she has not had to deal with before and asks her manager what she should do.

Option 1: The manager gives the answer, explains to her what will need to be done and she sets out to complete the task as told.

Option 2: The manager asks her how she thinks she should handle it. Together they reflect on her past experience and decide on the best way forward. she sets out to complete the task as she decided.

Both options seem to work well, Option 1 is a quicker whilst option 2 takes a little longer discussion. But which option would be best for her?

Soon after another totally different situation arises, and she will need to work out what to do. If you took option 1, she will come back to you with the problem and ask what to do. If you choose option 2, she will take the time to come up with a solution. Then let you know what she has done about it.

The more questions we ask to allow team members to get to their own solution the better the performance of each individual will be. In addition, having a team of self-reliant problem solvers will make you realise just how much time you do have to complete your own to do list.

Saving you time and money

We worked with a business recently on a management development programme. In a group discussion, to their own admission, all the managers spent far too much time giving answers to team members. To them it was the norm. What was also the norm was a high turnover of team members and low morale in the team. The action plan that we devised as a group together was to start simple. From then on, every time someone came to them with questions, they were to ask a question back. The simplest of questions too, ‘what do you think should be done?’.

The feedback at the next workshop has been excellent. The majority of managers have been doing this and having great effects. They are working more effectively and well on their way to being a high performing team, having lower turnover and a great environment to work in. Some were finding it difficult; it is really hard to break habits. Especially when giving answers is an easier quicker option.

One of the managers was really impressed, their feedback was: “I wish I had started this sooner. I think I felt that as the manager I had to have all the answers. It is really uncomfortable asking questions at first; however, it gets easier and by not being everything for everyone, it allows me to focus on the work I need to do.”

I get really excited when I see manager’s making really great changes to the way they work and getting amazing results when they do. So, in the spirit of this blog past, what do you think you should do?