How to improve your team when you can’t fire everyone

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This NFL football season has seen the rise of the Denver Broncos into first place in their division. You might be awed by this fact (or not!), but forget this truth: most of the players and coaches on this year’s roster were not on last year’s roster. They were fired, traded, and waived. The lesson is simple: if things are not what you want, fire everyone!

But, as I have noted several times, sports is not like business. In business, a manager taking over a team can’t “fire everyone.” There are HR rules for that and you simply showing up as a manager for a team doesn’t mean you get to break the HR rules. But if you want to improve your team, how do you do it?

Ignore the advice of the former manager; this is your team

Every good manager tells an incoming manager about their team. John does this and Mary does that. Take it all with a grain of salt.

When you come on the team as a manager (or, for that matter, a new team member), the team dynamic changes. The team needs to rebuild because it is no longer the same. So listen to what the manager says, but make your own judgment about the individuals on the team. The former manager isn’t evaluated anymore on your team, you are.

Value the individual first, the team will come later

Yes, there is an “I” in team. Part of that is the individual being responsible for delivering work. But part of that is a manager recognizing individual performance. This is especially true if an individual’s work is not seen as contributing to the team. If the team doesn’t recognize the contribution, you need to show how it does. It improves the individual’s standing in the team and makes the rest of the team question what is a contribution and what isn’t.

That doesn’t mean you ignore the team dynamic, just ensure that each team member is recognized for their contribution to the work.

Determine an individual’s strengths for the work

When I interviewed all of the members of my new teams, I always asked them what their strength was for the work. The answers I got varied; that’s to be expected. The surprising outcome, however, was what the person said their strength was on the job rarely was. It was usually something else.

For example, I had a person who said his strength was his ability to analyze business processes and improve them. The reality was his strength was knowing how to get something done when the process got in the way and we needed to do something different outside the process.

Listen to what your employee says is their strength — but make your own judgment.

Give work to feed the strengths, starve the weaknesses

Too many managers dish out work without thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals on their team. Others want to help improve the weakness of a person, so they give them work that fits their weaknesses.

That’s dumb. Give people more of what they are good at doing. Since they are good at doing it, they will get it done faster, with greater quality and with more engagement in the work. Isn’t that what we want our employees to do?

Expect strong performance from each member of your team

When you supply a higher set of performance expectations from an individual — and help them to achieve them — you raise the overall performance of a team. How many managers have you heard say something like “Oh, that’s Joe. He will never be a superstar, so don’t give him anything important to do.”

Managers assign stardom through the work they delegate. If you can’t figure out the strength of a person and give the right work to them, of course they won’t shine. Give them the right stuff and you will get the maximum effort and production from a person who wants to deliver result

You can’t fire everyone, so you need to figure out how to get the best performance from your team.

Wouldn’t you want to work for a manager who figured out your strengths for the work, gave you work that matched your strengths, ignored the previous manager’s analysis and expected strong performance?

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