Elizabeth Nichols wants new leaders to know that great leaders aren’t necessarily born that way. “I’ve never met somebody who’s just been a natural leader. It’s not an inherent skill,” says the behavioural specialist. “It’s something they’ve learnt and practised and put a lot of effort into becoming.” Elizabeth is the head of Ozmosis Leadership’s Australian office, currently working out of Bowral, NSW, and has worked with past clients including Woolworths, Telstra, and mining, finance and manufacturing companies, as a team engagement coach. These are her top, practical tips on how to lead a team and develop and encourage your people.

How is Leading a Small Team Different to Leading a Large Team?

You’re definitely more hands-on, and there’s absolutely no chance of a team member – or leader – hiding. In a small team, everybody has to put up their hand and be engaged. Things can also become a lot more personal, and you need to facilitate frustrations quickly and effectively so they don’t hinder communication and productivity.

What Are the First Steps to Making My Small Team Feel Like a Team?

Motivate and lead a team by first identifying your common purpose and goals.

A colleague said to me recently, “You’ve got to make your team excited about Monday morning, not Friday afternoon.” It’s critical to sit down and articulate a shared purpose or common goal. Why are we all on this bus and are we all going in the same direction? It could be a document or whiteboard; I’ve been in places where they’ve written on the walls to remind themselves why they’re there every day.

How Do I Lead a New Team for the First Time?

The first thing is to build rapport. Be open and curious about the team. Ask open-ended questions that get them sharing. It’s such an easy thing to do but so rare to see happen. Be aware people might be facing issues, sometimes personal, and you need to address that and maybe help them make a plan to work through that themselves, because it can affect the whole team. You need boundaries in place, and consistency, so people know how far they can go. This helps build rapport because they’re not second-guessing, wondering if they’ll overstep. They’re confident to make a suggestion.

What if I’m Managing Friends or Former Colleagues?

You need to allow your team space to make decisions and give feedback. The old paradigm of a manager is very different to leaders in organisations today. You’ll need to make decisions that may not make you popular but if you’re open and honest with your team, they’ll understand you’re not doing it to make their lives difficult.

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How Do I Introduce New Members to an Existing Team?

Managing different personalities and strengths is a key part of leading a team.

Get them to introduce themselves rather than you sending out the email. The team sends a series of questions for a new member to answer in front of them: where they grew up, education, kids, pets, home, family, hobbies, interests, their personal and professional goals. Then the team can ask further questions. This gives everyone a clear appreciation of the new member and helps reveal any similar interests or commonalities.

What if the New Person Doesn’t Want to Discuss Their Personal Life?

Provide the questions upfront so they can prepare answers. Honestly, some people will talk for 20 minutes about themselves, whereas with others, you might stick to goals and interests.

How Do I Manage Diverse Personalities in a Team?

Really understand them. DiSC is one of the systems that analyses individuals’ behaviours, and helps identify their core strengths and stretches [projects beyond the usual scope of their jobs]. The extended model can identify differences between a person’s natural behaviour and how they might change to fit the perceived need within an environment, which can cause subconscious pressures. By identifying them, the person can make changes to their behaviour, act more naturally and become a more effective team member.

How Do I Approach Conflict in a Small Team?

Having a strategy to manage conflict is key when it comes to how to lead a team.

The approach is the same in any team – to “chunk up” to gain agreement. You find a high-level point that all parties agree with, which could be: “Hey, do we all agree this project needs to be completed on time?” You’d hope the team members say, “Yes”. From there, you slowly chunk down with prepared questions to find the root cause of the issue. Once you start getting ‘yes’ answers, it’s a lot easier to keep getting ‘yes’ answers. But as soon as you hit a “No” or “Look, I’m not sure about that”, then it’s: “OK, tell me what’s going on here for you? What issues are you seeing that might be stopping this from progressing?” It’s the leader’s role at this point to encourage the team to articulate clearly why they don’t agree. You can’t get bogged down in “he said, she said” conversations.

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How Do I Balance Managing My Team With Each Member Owning Their Role?

Be extremely clear about each member’s responsibilities and expected contribution. When you have a common purpose, people have ownership of their role because they see how it fits into the bigger picture. With new teams, we use a Team Agreement Frame where the group sits down and develops guidelines about how they’ll work together. It’s a value-setting exercise but it can be an agreement around dealing with a team member who doesn’t complete work on time, which causes issues for others.

What Are Simple Ways to Motivate My Team?

[Australian social researcher] Hugh Mackay identified that the core motivation of every single human being is to be taken seriously. When a person feels they’re being acknowledged, listened to and supported, they are motivated to deliver the best outcome for the team because they feel they’re a part of something bigger rather than just on their own. Reward and acknowledge good work. Some people feel uncomfortable in the spotlight but we all crave to be taken seriously.

How Can I Make My Small Team Feel Unified When Some or All of Them Work Remotely?

Team engagement coach Elizabeth Nichols says leading a team is all about clear communication.

Have a clear communication plan in place: what’s the format of these meetings? Will there be a schedule of different styles of meetings? For some teams it helps to rotate the facilitator. For others, it could be that you don’t have an agenda for one meeting and instead ask the team: what issues do you think we need to address today? On a more social level, I was working with a team where each of us received a box and throughout the meeting we unwrapped the surprises inside – small bottles of wine, chocolate, nuts and props that reinforced the theme of the meeting. Everybody still talks about that.