8 Tips for Team Leader Success
Being fair, leading by example, and standing up for teammates are key
A team leader isn't quite a manager role--most team leaders don't have hiring and firing power over their team members—but it's not the same as being a regular individual contributor. While companies and departments vary, some common practices can help make you—and your team—successful.
As a team leader, you often get to assign tasks or even set the schedule. You may like some of your team members more than others, but that doesn't mean you should show preferences.
If you're having trouble with fairness—and team member complaints are one way to gauge your efforts—ask your manager to look over the task assignments, assign jobs without names, or let a different employee pick first each week.
Lead by Example
Team leaders generally work alongside their team members. If you're gossiping or slacking off, your team will lose respect for you. Instead, work hard. Set an example of what you expect from your teammates. Don't talk about team members or others behind their backs.
When a team member comes to you with a complaint about a co-worker, decide if this is a problem or just whining. If it's just whining, shut it down. If it's a true problem, solve it. But don't gossip about it. Fix it or don't talk about it.
Take On the Unpleasant Tasks
You may think that now that you're the lead, you're finally exempt from doing the tasks you always hated. For instance, if your team is responsible for cleaning the customer restrooms, make sure you're on the schedule for that. While it's an unpleasant task, your team members have more respect you if they see you taking your turn.
Make the Tough Decisions
While you generally don't have hiring and firing authority, you are responsible for making recommendations to those who do. You might be included in job interviews for prospective employees who will potentially join your team.
As a team leader sometimes you have to recommend or enforce disciplinary action on a co-worker who is also a friend. You may need to recommend suspension or even termination of a team member. Disciplinary actions are difficult, but they’re critical to your team's success. You must handle the problems when they occur.
Follow the Law
If one of your team members has a baby and takes 12 weeks of FMLA-approved leave, when she returns you may be tempted to give her the unpleasant tasks—after all, she's been gone for three months. This is, however, against the law. You can't punish someone for taking legally approved leave: it’s called retaliation if you do, and it’s a growing reason for why employees sue employers. Treat the returning employee like she's been there all along.
Likewise, if you have an employee with a disability, work with your manager, the human resources department, and the employee to develop reasonable accommodations as the law requires.
Record all overtime. Don't allow your employees to work off the clock, and never ask a co-worker to do it. Make sure that you follow all laws and ask your manager or human resources staff member if you have questions.
Follow Company Policy
Sometimes you may want to grant an exception to a company policy, but don't do so without approval from your boss. The reason for company policies may not be immediately clear to you, but it's critical that you follow them in order to protect you and the company from accusations of illegal discrimination.
For instance, you may not think it's a big deal to grant an exception to Jane but not John, but if it's not done for the proper reasons, John could claim discrimination.
Stand Up for Your Team Members
Never throw a team member under the bus. If you want to celebrate their successes, be prepared to support them in their failures. Remember that mistakes happen and you should work to fix them, not simply blame people for them.
Leading a team marks a significant step forward in your career. Make sure you approach the responsibility in the right way.