Do you want to help your team be more engaged in their work and develop new skills for future opportunities?  I hope you answered “yes” and “yes”. Let me share insights on how to do it.

Insight # 1 – Learn to define objectives, not the process

The most important step in developing your team is becoming good at defining the objectives, i.e., what do you want the end results to be. It sounds easier than you think because the default for many leaders is defining the process, so the team doesn’t screw things up. Doing so keeps them from learning and makes them dependent on you. Begin by thinking about what you want, as well as any guardrails, like cost, time, etc.

Insight #2 – Accept that there is more than one right answer

To get to the number 5, there are six combinations of whole numbers totaling five. They are:

5 + 0

4 + 1

3 + 2

2 + 3

1 + 4

0 + 5

Imagine each of those number combinations represents a different method or process. If you defined the objective for your team of achieving 5, then any of the six will work. You might prefer 3 + 2 because you’ve used it successfully before. You might also believe it’s the most efficient, so it is the route everyone should take.

As uncomfortable as it might be for you to hear this, accept it’s not the only way to get there. Any of the combinations will be right, which means if your team wants to get to five by using 4 + 1, they met the objective and both of you are right.

Insight # 3 – Your team wants control & creativity

An exercise I use when presenting with groups uses a series of multiple-choice questions with the intent of showing the participants how differently everyone sees things. But one question is always the outlier with almost everyone answering in the same way.

The question is, “If you are given a critical project to complete, what is your preference?”

  1. Work alone with clearly defined instructions on the process to follow to do the work.
  2. Work alone with clearly defined objectives, but I choose how the work is done.
  3. Work on a team with clearly defined instructions on the process to follow to do the work.
  4. Work on a team with clearly defined objectives, but we choose how the work is done.

Everyone’s answer is clearly defined objectives, but leaving how the work is done to be decided by those doing the work, as a team or individually.

Employees don’t want to be told what to do and how to do it, neither do you. Challenge them to figure things out themselves and let them use their own creativity. When you do, they will be engaged, learn more than they ever would if you told them how, and they’ll develop new skills in the process.

Insight #4 – Use questions to teach

Struggle is good and when they do, they’ll come to you with questions. Resist telling them the answers (telling isn’t teaching), but instead engage them with questions about their problem, decisions they made and why (which may have caused the problem). Help them identify solutions on their own, with your guidance.

When they’ve met their objectives, celebrate them. And remember to ask what they learned and what they would do differently. Then challenge them again.

We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.  Romans 5:3-4 (MSG)

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