Category: Featured

21 Sep

Team management principles

Marcelo Featured, Team management 0 Comments

Making team management a rewarding experience for leaders and their teams.

Leading a team can be an extraordinarily rewarding experience for leaders. However despite best intentions, some leaders end up micromanaging, making their teams give less. Here are some thoughts on what leaders can do to increase commitment the right way.

1. Give them freedom. I believe that the most effective way to get the best from people is to help them understand why they are doing something. Only then people can commit wholeheartedly, assuming they support that cause. We often hear about buy-in. I am not a fan of that phrase. Buy-in implies that someone is being persuaded to  do something. If I am genuinely interested, I don’t need to buy-in. I just want to do it.

2. Give them direction. Freedom without direction creates confusion. I’ve seen teams spin their wheels when no clear direction was given to them. It is important to communicate very clearly what the expected outcomes of an effort are. Without that understanding, teams have a hard time knowing what to do and that can be frustrating and unproductive.

3. Make them accountable. Freedom and clear direction allows people to sincerely commit to whatever they’re doing, and to making sure that they do their best to arrive to the expected outcomes. An important element is to make it clear that people are accountable for achieving what’s expected from them. Without clear communication of accountability people tend to be less demanding of themselves because of lack of consequences. This downward spiral fosters underperformance and lack of growth; an outcome not only detrimental to managers but also unfair to team members themselves.

4. Get out of their way. With freedom, direction and accountability, people are equipped to show what they’re capable of. It is now time for the leader to get out of their way. Leaders must resist the temptation of telling people how to do something. Instead, tell them what they need to do (give them direction) but don’t tell them how to get it done. Give them the chance to teach you something. You may be surprised.

5. Trust them. Very few things are as demotivating as feeling that someone doesn’t trust us to do a good job. Trusting someone sets an unspoken commitment for that person to do their best to achieve whatever it is that we expect from them. Be careful not to put someone in a position where they don’t have the means to accomplish what is expected of them. But when they do have the means, just trust them. Knowing that you trust them will empower them to accomplish a whole lot more.

6. Give them the right tools. People need the great tools to do a great job. Anything less translates into an unnecessary hurdle to overcome. Software developers need the fastest, most modern computers available. Digital designers need the largest and highest quality displays. Give them anything less, and they will be wrestling with inadequacies that aren’t core to their expertise.

7. Learn from them. I first became familiar with the myth of the complete leader when I read the article In Praise of the Incomplete Leader published in the February 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Until then, I was under the assumption that great leaders had all the answers. I was wrong. There is no such thing as the complete leader. No one can be great at everything. Great leaders aren’t afraid of recognizing their weaknesses and surrounding themselves with people that can help balance them. Ironically, the worse leaders—those not entitled to be called leaders—are the ones that project an image of complete strength. Such self-confidence is often masking deeply rooted weaknesses.

8. Expect more. The Pygmalion effect states that the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform. Give your team enough information to help them make better decisions. Let them know that while they have the freedom to experiment, they are accountable for delivering the expected results.

9. Help them see the big picture. Unlike leaders, members of specialized teams have a laser-focused mind. This narrow field of vision is what makes experts be experts; their deep specialization is what makes them so good at what they do. Leaders on the other hand, have a 360-degree searchlight mind that enables them to hold divergent ideas about a single concept. Use this capability to show team members the implications of certain decisions or considerations that they may not be attuned to. In the same way team members can teach you a lot about a little, you can teach them a little about a lot.

10. Help them grow. Always be looking for new skills that will not only make the team stronger as a unit, but that will develop the individual team members in their own personal career. Care deeply about their wants and needs and look for ways to satisfy their desires to better themselves. Don’t wait for formal performance reviews and career planning sessions to put new challenges in front of them. Do it regularly and consistently.


The photo used in this post is Gnat Display Team – RAF Waddington by Alan Wilson. It is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.


14 Sep

Community managers rule

Marcelo Community management, Featured, Product development 0 Comments

Hiring the right community manager can make or break your product

Startup founders are very selective of who they bring onboard.  This is particularly the case in early stage, where the perceived value of what they’re building is high. In this stage, founders aim to bring in strategic partners that they hope will add as much value as the founders themselves.

This aiming high mindset is right. Settling for less so early can turn the startup into a fraternity. There is however a blind spot. In the pursue of higher value,  founders close doors on important skill sets. Some of which are critical for getting the right traction.

Meet the community manager.

In my experience, people that levitate towards the role are extroverts. They have a large group of friends and followers, online and in real life. They attend lots of parties and are somewhat of a celebrity.

To a founder working 16 hours a day such glamour feels decadent.  The hardworking entrepreneur may see the community manager as a socialite that doesn’t value hard work.

While this perception may be true in some cases, it is unfunded in most. Socialites do work hard their own way. Maintaining that status requires effort. Doing it right requires talent. Doing it consistently, discipline.

Okay. Socialites aren’t lazy. But why do community managers matter?

Let’s say you’re starting an app or website. You have a clear vision for what your ideal user looks like. That user you would feature on the home page for others to discover and emulate.

Promoting certain behaviour is easy to do in the very early stages. After all, most users are your friends and their friends. But as the app spreads into the wild, it inevitably attracts less-than-ideal personas. Sure; settings, defaults and features can contribute to steer usage in certain directions. But unintended uses are resilient and crappy behaviour spreads fast unless a human intervenes.

Failure to manage can have unintended consequences. In some cases these consequences can be good, showing you what people really want to do with your product. But in most cases, things quickly turn to anarchy. The end result? A community of which you wouldn’t want to be a member yourself.

A community manager that understands how to talk to people is the perfect candidate to prevent this derailment. Bring them in early. Be sure they’re passionate about what you’re trying to do. Share equity if you can’t afford them. Most importantly, understand that they bring real, high and strategic value.

Bonus link: An article from Mashable about some of the most important qualities of an effective community manager. (Opens in a new window).

The photo used in this post is traffic light obsession.3 by Clay Junell. It is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

07 Sep

New and better ideas

Marcelo Featured, Ideation, Innovation 0 Comments

New ideas are fuelled by diversity, observation, curiosity and humour.

Loosely speaking, we are creatures of habit. We tend to do the same things over and over. We take the same route to work and eat at the same places. Even in our free time, we hang out at our favourite spots. Routine makes it hard for us to look at situations in a new light. Here are ideas on how to breakaway from our comfort zone.

Hang out with diverse people. We tend to surround ourselves with people that are like us.  After all, having more in common leads to easily flowing conversations. Resisting this affinity could broaden our insight. More-of-the-same can help to confirm assumptions, but doesn’t expose us to new thinking. Spending time with people of different backgrounds and interests, does. We can use this new understanding to solve long-standing challenges.

Observe closely. You are conducting a survey to understand how people react to a certain stimulus. You ask questions and analyze the results. This practice is well established and it does have a legitimate place. The problem is that in certain cases, people think they’d react in some way while in reality they end up doing something else. This is when observing is better than asking. Seeing what people do in a certain situation instead of asking them what they’d do, will give you more accurate answers.

Ask and be willing to listen. In situations where simply asking can give us the insight we need, be sure to listen. In some cases, we will be trying to convince ourselves that something is a good idea or a bad idea. We try to convince ourselves because the outcome is beneficial to us in some way, which impedes our capacity to stay objective. So when we ask, we really need to listen for what comes back and we need to put it in the right context. Pay special attention to answers that contrast with your beliefs; those are the ones that we tend to carelessly dismiss.

Be curious. Be open to new ideas. New way of doing things. New routes to get to where you’re going. Design your life to encourage serendipity. It may at times feel like you’re wasting your time. You may feel like your way is better. And in many cases it will be. That’s where the challenge is: seek to learn new ways of dong something, but don’t waste your time relearning something you do well already. The best areas for keeping an open mind is when trying to solve a long-standing problem. You may realize that a newbie’s simplification of your complex world, is, in fact, the wiser course of action.

Relax. Curiosity, discovery and learning tends to happen more when we’re not trying to arrive to a specific outcome. Exploration requires that we try things that will fail. Taking things lightly and with some humour encourages failure by avoiding judgement. This helps people be okay with asking dumb questions and taking risks. Without dumb questions and risks, we’ll stay on the safe and predictable side, making it impossible for us to have new and hopefully better ideas.

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