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Gael Spivak

Leading a Team in a Corporate Workplace

Illustration of three people putting together large pieces of an arrow like a puzzle to form a single image. Each piece is pointed on the end so that when viewed independently, they look like three process symbols suggesting sequential steps.
Illustration of three people putting together large pieces of an arrow like a puzzle to form a single image. Each piece is pointed on the end so that when viewed independently, they look like three process symbols suggesting sequential steps.
Copyright: marigisina

I’ve been leading a small team of writers and editors since 2014. Here are some tips I’ve figured out over that time.

Play to people’s strengths

Let people do what they enjoy and are good at (as much as possible).

In my workplace, writers and editors are usually assigned subject areas. That makes sense, in terms of being familiar with a topic, and our team mostly follows that model. But I’ve found that my team can deliver their best work, and deliver it most quickly, when we divide tasks based on people’s individual strengths. And since people’s preferences typically align with their strengths, they are happier with this division of work.

Process, process, process

Process often gets a bad rap. Some folks don’t like to be hemmed in or have rules to follow. However, processes that are well thought out can actually be liberating.

Good processes save so much time. You don’t have to discuss every assignment and what the next step is. The workflow is predictable so you won’t have other people doing the wrong steps and confusing everyone.

Documented processes are also great for training new people, for supporting staff who have to fill in on tasks they don’t normally do and for maintaining business continuity. I’ve written two sets of process documents for our team’s major tasks:

  1. a two-to-four-page description with details of each step, and 
  2. a one-page checklist with just the major highlights.

Once you’re familiar with the process, you can use just the checklist.

Processes aren’t set in stone. They often need tweaking to improve any areas that aren’t working and to adapt to changing situations. Flexibility within structure usually allows for the most effective processes.

Stay connected

Make sure your team stays connected, especially if you’re working remotely.

If you don’t have particular items to address, you should still stay in touch with informal chats. My team has a weekly meeting scheduled so that we have a time set aside to talk. We usually talk through work problems. If we don’t have any of those, we talk about our families and other personal things.

Knowing your team on a personal level means you’ll understand their work style, which will help you lead them better.

Be helpful

I’ve found that being helpful where we can makes a big difference to our team and to the people we work with. Find ways to use your knowledge or your skills to make other people’s work easier, whether formally or informally. It greases the wheels. And it’s fun to help people.

For example, when I have to figure out a task and I know it’s going to come up for someone else, I type up the instructions and put them in an electronic folder where I keep similar documents. When someone asks if I know how to do something, I can send them a document that explains exactly how to do it.

You just have to set boundaries so you don’t end up doing tasks that someone else should be doing.

Advocate

Lastly, take opportunities to advocate for things your team values. For us, it’s plain language. I will talk about what plain language is and how to achieve it any time the opportunity comes up. This keeps it on people’s minds, and it reminds them where they can go for that expertise. It also keeps my team engaged, because they know their leader is standing up for their values.

Workplace cultures can vary widely, so other things might work better in different sectors. What advice would you give about your workplace?     

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Previous post from Gael Spivak: Using Volunteer Work to Make Yourself More Marketable

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