Stepping Up as a Team Leader

As a team leader, you play a critical role in the success of your people and the organisation.

Learning your duties and responsibilities properly will help you achieve your goals more efficiently, and you’ll see progress faster.

In this article, we’ll go over the key responsibilities and best practices that every good team leader should possess.

These skills are also covered in our Team Leader courses!

Step Up Cartoon

1. Set Clear Goals, Metrics, And Expectations

The first thing any good team leader has to do is set clearly defined goals, metrics, and expectations.

Here are some best practices for goal-setting as a team leader:

  • Set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound) — for example, reduce employee turnover rate by 15% by implementing a new employee retention program by the end of the year.
  • Align individual goals with team goals and company goals — encourage cross-functional collaboration and communication to foster a team-oriented approach to achieving company goals.
  • Set metrics and KPIs you’re going to measure — for example, track employee engagement levels through quarterly employee surveys and aim for a 10% increase in engagement scores by the end of the year.
  • Provide the tools and knowledge necessary to attain the goals — provide access to professional development opportunities such as workshops, conferences, and certifications to support employee career growth.
  • Give clear deadlines and timelines for each goal or milestone — for example, create a project timeline with clear milestones and deadlines for the implementation of a new HR information system

The better you set the goals and objectives for your team, the easier it will be to understand them and the steps they need to take to achieve them.

2. Train Your Team Members In The Necessary Skills

Being a coach and a mentor are a large part of being a team leader. Depending on your organisation, your team members might go through training before they take their job positions.

However, learning the theory and actually doing your job can be two completely different things.

As a team leader, it’s your job to support, train, and mentor your team to help them develop and hone their skills to become better at what they do.

According to recent Gartner findings, only 25% of employees are confident about their career progress at the organisation they work in currently.

Furthermore, we can also see that not having a clear career development plan makes employees leave their current employer almost as much as being offered higher compensation would.

To avoid that, the job of a team leader is to assess the potential of their team members and offer them a career progress or development plan accordingly.

Encouraging a culture of continuous learning and finding ways to implement it in practice will help you design a dream team that always strives for more!

If your team is capable, then there will be no need for you to micromanage!

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3. Day-To-Day Admin And Operations

Most team leaders are also responsible for the daily administration, paperwork, and reporting within a company. Here are some example operations:

  • Managing shift work, typically by using staff rota software
  • Preparing paperwork (progress reports, timesheets)
  • Tracking progress using employee performance measurement tools (such as performance reviews!)
  • Coordinating, planning, and allocating workload, usually with the help of project or task management software
  • Delegating tasks based on individual skills and job roles — project management tools can be of great help here
  • Supervising and overseeing day-to-day activities (for instance, using time-tracking apps to calculate hours worked and breaks)
  • Responding to emails and reporting the tracked progress.

The operational daily activities of team leaders, such as employee scheduling, task assigning, and reporting, can usually be simplified with the help of automation tools.

By automating the repetitive, time-consuming tasks, you’ll free up time on your hands to dedicate to what really matters — growing and motivating your team.

4. Manage The Performance And Track The Progress

In the first step of this article, we spoke about setting the right metrics and KPIs for measuring and tracking progress. If you set up everything right in advance, you should be able to measure the progress of the tasks and projects at any given time.

Based on the nature of your business, you might want to measure individual as well as team goals.

Tracking the performance of your staff in this way will allow you to notice when something is off. For instance, if a team member has been reaching their targets consistently over the last year, and now you notice that they’re failing to do so, it’s a sign that something might be wrong.

One example is Fossil Group, a company with over 15,000 global employees, which set up three strategic touchpoints throughout the year supplemented with ongoing performance conversations that can be initiated by any employee, at any time.

While the company had a high participation rate of 92% in goal-setting reviews, they found that 35% of individual goals created were misaligned or had no impact on the organisation.

To improve goal alignment, Fossil Group implemented three strategies: scheduling ongoing performance conversations, creating intuitive goal conversation templates, and using recognition to keep performance conversations fresh.

The company’s performance management strategy evolved through simplification and by delegating time for managers to focus on employee performance.

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5. Establish Effective Communication

According to Gallup, clear communication is a trait that all great leaders share. For a team leader position, this means:

  • communicating effectively with all the team members
  • finding ways for team members to communicate with each other
  • updating superiors or key stakeholders on the progress.

There are many specifics that go into good communication — starting from active listening and understanding to ensuring that the message was received as intended.

A good team leader has to be a good communicator, first and foremost. This will help avoid misunderstandings, making the entire organisation more productive.

Dharmesh Shah, the founder of HubSpot, emphasizes the importance of communicating changes in working guidelines and explaining the reasons behind some different decisions you make as a leader. Additionally, it’s quite important to be consistent in communicating with the employees — if they understand why some decision was made, they won’t assume unfair treatment.

6. Motivate And Help Resolve Conflicts

When we mention team leaders, your first thought is “team building”, isn’t it? That’s for a good reason! One of the most important tasks of a team leader is to motivate their people and help them become more productive.

Another vital area of interest for team leaders is workplace conflict resolution. Start by actively listening to the problem and understanding the barriers of both parties.

Once you’ve learnt the root or the origin of the conflict, discuss possible solutions and try to remind both parties that they’re working for a common goal.

For instance, an early-stage Medtech company faced internal conflicts due to the CEO hiring the wrong people to join the leadership team.

Challenges arose as the new hires had trouble assimilating into the small company environment, had different work styles, and faced personal problems.

Despite efforts to solve the problem, the CEO was stuck with a situation that he couldn’t fix or openly talk about to board members, investors, or certain members of his team.

After working on uncovering the sources of ongoing conflict, the team successfully managed it. Each person was given things to work on, mutual respect improved, and big and small issues were addressed. With the conflict managed, the company successfully closed on capital, gained FDA approval, and increased its value.

Wrapping Up

No matter the nature of your business, the key responsibilities of a team leader will definitely fall into one of the above points.

However, it’s worth mentioning that in today’s age of digital, AI, and data-empowered business climate, agility and being able to quickly pivot are also great qualities to have as a team leader.

And, if you teach and empower your team with the same flexibility and adaptability — you’ll be unstoppable.

Hopefully, this guide will help you embody these best practices and inspire your team to reach their full potential.

For more on management, read our guide here on how to get to win-win outcomes!


About Ben Richardson

Ben is a director of Acuity Training which he has been running for over 10 years.

He is a Natural Sciences graduate from the University of Cambridge and a qualified accountant with the ICAEW.

He previously worked as a venture capitalist and banker and so had extensive experience with Excel from building financial models before moving to learn SQL, Microsoft Power BI and other technologies more recently.