I’ve been on maternity leave for most of the past year (don’t hate me, stateside readers) and have had a lot of catching up to do now that I’m back at work. I could’ve written a post about the billion and one updates that have happened while I’ve been gone – but I figure you were there, you already know about it. Instead I want to share the other big focus I’ve had since returning to work: getting the most out of my team.

Don’t worry, though, this isn’t a “what having a baby taught me about team management” post because bleurgh.

So, how do you get the most out of your team? There isn’t a quick fix to make your team a super-efficient, client-pleasing unit overnight, but here are some things I’m working on:

Get to Know Your Team Members

It’s obvious really, but if you want to get the most out of people, you need to know and understand them.

What are their strengths and weaknesses? What could they teach an in-depth week-long course on and where is their knowledge kind of hazy? What tunes do they blast out when they’re having a bad day to cheer them up – or do they prefer to wallow in silence?

I ask that last point just to show that, while you don’t need to be your team members’ best friends, it is good to know a little bit about who they are as people. And that’s not the kind of information you can get just by asking them to take a psychometric test or questionnaire about their knowledge and skill set.

What is the point of knowing your team?

Knowledge is power. If you understand your staff and know how they work, you are better placed to help them perform their best. It just makes sense. If you know someone has awesome data analysis skills, you can send those head-scratching numbers their way, but if creative thinking is more their bag, you can call on them when a client wants to know 101 New Ways to Get Customers.

Play to Their Strengths – Help Them Overcome Their Weaknesses

So now you know where everyone’s skills lie – you just divide up the work based on their skills. Job done and everybody’s happy, right?

Not so much.

The annoying thing about work and, well, life in general is that you can’t always do what you love and what you’re best at. In every job there are elements that you’ll find challenging or tedious, and it’s going to be the same for your team members.

The trick is knowing where they struggle and coaching them to improve. Maybe that means you identify a need for extra training. Perhaps you need to help them to approach situations from a different perspective. It could be as simple as acknowledging that they find something difficult, so they understand that you know where they’re coming from. Being heard and understood matters to everyone.

Celebrate Your Team’s Success

So this follows on from that last point – celebrate their successes, however small.

If you’ve got a team member who hates calling clients, and you see them pick up the phone, make a point to say something to them. You don’t need to throw a ticker tape parade or pour praise all over them; a quick thumbs-up or just a “good job, I know you found that tough” can make all the difference.

And when they do something truly fantastic? Make sure everyone knows about it! This is the time to congratulate them and tell your boss that they’ve done good. I know I like it when my hard work is acknowledged, and they will too.

Care about Them, Respect Them, Like Them

As I said before, you do not have to be best mates with your team, but if you like them and can see the good in them, it’s easier to get the most out of them.

Sometimes people need your help at inconvenient times, and if you care about and like your staff, it can be easier to handle the intrusion. By showing a little respect at those times when you really can’t help at that moment, they’ll understand and trust that you will help when you can.

Maybe that all sounds a little bit hippy; sometimes people are just jerks and that approach won’t help (but you haven’t hired jerks, now, have you?). Generally, though, you get out what you put in. Taking a moment to explain, “I’m sorry, this report is due in 10 minutes, I understand you’re struggling, but can I help you after that?” is just a better approach and shows that you will help when you can.

Encourage Everyone to Feel Part of the Team

This is easy to say, but not necessarily easy to do. Team-building exercises can be super awkward and really forced. You’ve got to find what works for you (and because you’ve taken the time to learn about your staff, you’ll – hopefully – know where to start).

Part of this comes down to following the steps above – a good team will care about, respect and (hopefully) like each other. And if you’re leading by example, they will learn that that’s how things are done.

Part of it comes down to actually doing things together (like, duh). That may include after-work drinks or team lunches to help you bond, but really you want your team to work well together. So basically, you’ve got to get them working together. Practice makes perfect and all that.

Encourage them to bring problem accounts to the whole team. Set up regular brainstorming sessions for account development. Give them individual challenges to test out new features that they can then bring to everyone with suggestions for how it can help their clients. Do whatever works for you. And if it’s obvious that they’re not into it, don’t force it; try something else.

Getting the most out of your team takes time and effort. You need to know them well so you can distribute work based on their talents – and so you can give support when that’s not the case. Reward the good work they do, respect them, and build up a comradery.

That can’t happen overnight, but when you’ve got happier staff producing better work for your clients, you’ll be happy you took the time.

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Katie Walton is Head of PPC at Boom Online Marketing. She works with all major PPC platforms, loves Excel and never met a cake she didn’t like. When she’s not at work you’ll find her walking her miniature schnauzer.