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Six pieces of advice every team leader should keep top of mind

Published: 06 Mar 2023

Leading a team is a challenge. Being a good team leader is even harder. Everyone has individual preferences and circumstances, both in and out of work, and finding ways to accommodate each person is key to creating a successful and productive team culture.

We reached out to our Awards jury of digital media experts to discover what their best piece of advice is for a team leader looking to improve the way they manage their team members and create a collaborative environment that allows individual strengths to shine through.

Get to know your team as individuals.

    Part of being a great team leader is understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your team. “Being a good leader is about giving everyone the space to excel and grow their strengths,” advised Hannah Barnett, Commercial Director, Digital Sales at Mail Metro Media. “When you spend the time to recognise each individual’s unique contribution you can empower the team member to use their set of skills and strengths to the best effect.”

    Kaushala Ratnayake, Head of Strategy at Bauer Media UK, agreed with Hannah’s sentiment and warned against creating “one melting pot culture” that overpowers individuality. Instead, she recommends that you “take the time to get the team to see where they are alike or different from others in the team and build a dynamic together that respects and empowers the differences.” It’s well-documented that diverse teams are more creative and more agile – but it has to be more than a tick-box hiring exercise: you need to foster a culture that allows those individual differences to shine through.

    Understanding what makes a person tick is also vital to getting the best work out of someone and for creating an environment where they enjoy the work that they’re doing. Edd Dracott, Real Life & Social Media Editor at PA Media, told us that, personally, he was always most productive when he was passionate about the subject he was reporting on. “My boss let me lead coverage on those topics and trusted me to take full responsibility and be held accountable for the quality of coverage we offered on them,” he explained.

    Allow space for your team to grow and develop, but be there to support as needed.

      It’s a fine line to walk between being hands-off enough to allow members of your team to work autonomously and also being able to provide advice and guidance when needed. “Allowing [your team] the space to shine is also important, whilst being on hand to coach and support,” Helen Jeremiah, Marketing Director at Boots, told us.

      Similarly, you need to adapt your strategies to suit each member of your team. Alessandro Cusmano, Digital Sales & Marketing Leader at HSBC, stressed the importance of pushing everyone in your team to broaden their horizons. “Some people are naturally inclined to go above and beyond what they think is expected from them,” Alessandro highlighted. “Other – often as much talented – people need some help to get to understand their true potential.”

      Everyone learns differently, and everyone reacts to stress differently. Once you know your team as individuals, you can also start supporting them individually. Henry Eccles, Head of Retail & Commerce Partnerships at Google, acknowledges this and recommends that leaders “assign tasks to individuals that stretch them outside of their day-to-day responsibilities” to help them build skills in new areas.

      PA Media’s Edd Dracott agreed with the sentiment and highlighted that by “understanding what they’re interested in early on, you can keep your eyes peeled for opportunities that would suit them and which they may be best placed to take a lead on.” Deborah Gbadamosi, CEO, UK/Europe at Brand Advance, also identified the importance of filtering down opportunities to help members of your team “grow their confidence and exposure to key industry opportunities.”

      Reward and recognise progress in all its forms

        The counterpoint to providing opportunities for growth is recognising achievement. Erfan Djazmi, Chief Digital Officer, EMEA at Mediahub, told us that team leaders should “constantly top them up with new challenge goals that push them to the edge of comfort, underpinned by a recognition system that cheers them on along the way. Craig Tuck, Chief Revenue Officer for the Ozone Project, also called for team leaders to celebrate momentum as well as completed projects. “Sometimes the end goal takes a while to get to,” he explained. “It’s important for motivation, validation, wellbeing etc that momentum is recognised.”

        Hannah Barnett, Mail Metro Media, similarly recognised the need to reward your team members, but she also stressed that failing can be just as valuable to individual development. “Reward and praise your team members when they succeed, or indeed when they fail, because those few words will make a big difference to their confidence and motivation.”

        Trust your team to do their best work.

          Mutual respect is essential in the workplace. According to Google’s Henry Eccles, “good leadership is all about empowering teams to take ownership of their work, trusting them to use their instincts and take considered risks.”

          As a team leader, you need to be able to create a culture where individuals are encouraged to voice their thoughts and opinions. “Open communication will help employees feel part of a team and that they are contributing to a larger goal, which in turn encourages and allows them to share their strengths and act on them,” explained Vickiie Oliphant, Head of SEO (Nationals) at Reach. She also stressed the importance of making sure that your team feel confident in having honest and frank discussions with you. Alessandro Cusmano, HSBC, agreed with this and highlighted the need to “listen to your team, listen to stakeholders, [and] encourage a healthy feedback cycle.”

          Emphasise your shared goal and purpose

            Understanding how your individual piece of work builds towards something bigger can enthuse and inspire your team members. “A great leader ensures there is a clarity of direction for the business and provides clear expectations of the team’s involvement,” shared Ali Maynard-James, Managing Partner at Manifest. “By focusing on the company’s purpose – the why – the team can see their input and the impact they are having on the business’s progress.”

            For digital publishers, that purpose is primarily creating and surfacing great content. Manuela Mossa, Digital Advertising Operations at National Rail, recommended that to achieve this, you keep your users and audience at the core of your work, saying that “team members are empowered by a sense of purpose and by the value their work generates for users and customers.”

            Aditya Solanki, Director of Digital Media at Asian Media Group, concurred and encouraged people to make sure they are focussed on the content that matters most to your audiences as a guiding focus for your team’s purpose. “Once the basics are in place,” he explained, “allowing individuals to express their opinions or challenging them to come up with new ideas brings out their creativity and allows them to develop.” And as Jon Birchall, Director of Editorial Strategy at LADbible Group, told us, it is “the leaders who encourage new ideas and new perspectives from across their teams who thrive in this changing environment.”

            It’s about what you can do for them – not what they can do for you.

              Finally, to be a truly great team leader, you need to be able to focus on the priorities of your team members – and not yourself. HSBC’s Alessandro Cusmano explained that “reversing the traditional hierarchical pyramid and finding out what individuals need to thrive is paramount,” while Ozone’s Craig Tuck said that “remembering that you work for them is probably the best way to stay true to the above.”

              Your success as a leader will follow suit.

              Recognise the hard work, creativity, and ingenuity of your team by entering the AOP Digital Publishing Awards. You can find our more information about our Individual and Team Excellence categories here


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              Published: 20 Feb 2023