By Van Natter Consulting Group

Time Challenged Managers and Underappreciated Teams
How many of you have been in this all too common situation? Where you are the underappreciated team member or the challenged manager? I have been on both ends and trust me they are both stressed by the situation.
The situation normally starts by the manager taking on additional projects or tasks. This added work leads to them spending more time in the office. The extra time in the office leads to a decrease in communication and time spent with their team. As this continues, the Manager only breaks from their additional work to speak with certain team members about top priorities or to ask others to assist them with new projects.
This leads the rest of the team to feel underappreciated and think that the Manager is only focused on their favorite employees. Making something that started innocently turn into a real issue that if continued will lead to lower production, team members transferring, and possibly the removal of the Manager.
If you are a manager and find yourself in this type of a situation, have a superior inform you that this is taking place, or are asked to take over a team in this situation I have 4 tips to help you turn this situation around.

Acknowledge the Situation

This is both the hardest and the easiest thing to do. The hard part is admitting to yourself and your team that you messed up. But this is easy to do as your team already knows you messed up and want you to do something about it.
Start by explaining why you have been distant, the work overload. Then apologies for letting it distract you from focusing on them and helping them improve.
Then let them know that you are going to actively work to change the situation and that you will be doing things differently.

Get Out of The Office and Start Talking with The Team

A quick way to make your team feel more appreciated is to use a twist on Taiichi Ohno’s (Toyota) practice of ‘management by walking around’. Taiichi would spend part of his day walking around the plant talking with the team about how the machines where working and asking for streamlining suggestions from the employees.
My twist on this practice is that the beginning the conversation should not be about work and instead focus on sharing about each other’s personal life and then discuss their projects/clients. If this is something new to you start with easy questions like ‘how was your weekend’. By doing this you will show the team that you care about them as an individual, not just an employee, and helps make them feel appreciated.
Additionally, you must ensure that you talk to every person on the team every day. I know this sounds counter intuitive, since this started because you were tight on time, but it should only add 5 minutes per employee.
I have always used this process when moving to a new team and it creates a team that will go above and beyond for you.

Uncover What Intrigues Each Team Member

After you have reignited the communication flow, add a conversation about what type of projects or clients intrigue each team member. Explain to the team that besides learning more about them, you also want to be considerate when assigning projects or clients.
An additional bonus from this is you may uncover that a team member is in the wrong roll or working with the wrong client base. For instance, you may uncover that someone on your corporate sales team really wants to work with small businesses.
Although I do have to warn you to look out for two responses. The first is ‘whatever/whoever you need’ and the second is ‘only top priorities/clients’. If you receive the first statement, dig deeper and reinsure them that you really want to uncover their true interest. With the second response you will need to remind them that the goal is to evenly distribute the top projects / clients.
Obviously, there will be projects/clients that do not fit everyone’s wish list, but your team will now understand your thought process and help eliminate the ‘favorites’ view.

Equally Assign Projects Between Team Members

Now that you have open communication and understand your team’s passion make sure that you divide the projects / clients evenly between your team. I know this can be scary as it requires turning over some high priority projects / clients to people who have only worked with smaller projects/clients and vice versa. Just remember that it is more important to have a strong team, than a few strong individuals.
If you have concerns about this try teaming people together to work on high priority projects. Take a more senior employee and have them work with a newer employee as this has multiple benefits. The first is that it takes a little of the coaching off your hands. The second is that the more senior employee gains coaching experience. Third the newer employee increases their skill set and builds a strong relationship with another teammate

Final Word

If you find yourself time challenged and fear that your team feels underappreciated, then take a deep breath and vow to change the situation. Start by admitting that the situation exist and then get out of the office. Spur conversations where you can learn about your team and what intrigues them. Then ensure that you assign projects / clients evenly to regain your team’s trust. You and your team will be grateful that you did.

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