The first and most important thing you need to know about developing team members is this: it takes time.
And not just in the sense that it might take a while, although that can be true, but that it takes your dedicated time and attention, as a manager, to focus on the members of your team, their goals and objectives, and how they want to evolve.
A litmus test for knowing if you’re developing your team members effectively might sound counter-intuitive, but here it is: they will talk with you about where they want their career to go, even beyond your team or organization. Yes, you read that correctly. You’ll know you’re doing it right when they tell you that someday, they might want to leave. The ironic part is that if you can achieve that, they are much less likely ever to do so.
Paradoxically, holding your talent with an open hand will keep the high-performers on your team around longer than grasping them with an iron fist. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do.
Meet once a month, every month
You have a relatively simple opportunity to build a far more cohesive and engaged team by simply taking a small amount of time—think just a half-hour—to meet with each member of your team each month. This means setting aside time to have a private, intentional, one-on-one conversation with each member of your team; a conversation that is completely focused on their growth and development.
Part of that focus needs to be on where your team members want to go long-term. It can be a scary conversation to have, I know, but it is essential. Not only does this demonstrate that you’re invested in helping them grow, it also shows that you value your employees and see them as human beings, not just cogs in a production machine.
If you can offer this dedicated time to each member of your team, not only will they be happier and more engaged, but you will as well. As scary as it might seem, those conversations can be some of the most rewarding, and you’ll feel better and more effective as a manager for having had them.
WARNING: One of the biggest mistakes I see new managers make when they try to implement this is letting these meetings devolve into status updates, working sessions, or planning and delegation discussions. Avoid this at all costs, otherwise, the purpose of the meeting is squandered, and trust may be called into question, as well.
Be sure to discuss what, why, and especially how
More than just scheduling and having these conversations, you need to take into account how you have them.
To do this, consider the 70–20–10 rule for team development:
- 70 percent of professional growth comes from the work you do
- 20 percent from relationships that are created, and
- 10 percent through formal training.
These conversations should leave the 70 percent behind, and focus on the 20 percent of growth driven through relationships.
Creating time for sincere conversations that fall into the 20 percent helps inform the other 80. You can discuss opportunities for formal training, or find out if there’s a conference or class your team member would like to attend. It can also aid greatly with finding stretch assignments and ensure the 70 percent of work your team is doing is helping them grow.
Happy teams are productive teams
Without these one-on-one conversations, you may find yourself flying blind. If you spend all your time delegating based simply on your observations or what needs to be done right now, without seeking input from your employees, chances are you won’t help them grow over the long term. You might not even be aligning their assignments with their strengths, skills, and values. Make time for these conversations and it’s more than likely that your team will actually want to work with you more, and in better, faster ways, and oftentimes more fun ways!
So how do you know if you’re doing it right? First and foremost, you’ll see and feel the growth of your team. It sounds intangible, but trust me, the growth will show up in tangible ways. Team members will take on more responsibility, sometimes from you, but also from other members of the team. If you create the right team environment where you are helping them to grow, they’ll not only help you, but they’ll also help each other.
Another telltale sign: your people will leave less often, and when they do, it won’t blindside you. Furthermore, other people will want to work for you, and you’ll have outside people inquiring about openings. The environment will feel less competitive and more supportive; more aligned.
One note of caution before we close: if you do have these conversations, and you find out something you don’t like (a team member is planning to leave soon, for instance), do not punish them for telling you! Remember, as a manager you want this information. In some instances, you actually need this information. And now that you have it, you can proactively plan around it. If instead, you punish that person for sharing, you’re setting the stage for the other people on your team to avoid opening up to you.