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The single worst mistake that a manager can make

Gary Cole, left, as Bill Lumbergh and Ron Livingston as Peter Gibbons in Office Space.Gary Cole, left, as Bill Lumbergh and Ron Livingston as Peter Gibbons in Office Space.
Gary Cole, left, as Bill Lumbergh and Ron Livingston as Peter Gibbons in Office Space.Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you build a strong team? is written by Dominique Jones, vice president of human resources at Halogen Software.

Communicate goals clearly and often
Communication is a fundamental part of team success because it builds common purpose. When you communicate team goals clearly, you can align employee activities with these goals, keeping everyone rowing in the same direction. Research shows communication has a significant impact on the bottom line: Companies with the most effective communication systems consistently experience better financial performance because the entire organization is aligned around company objectives.

But building strong teams takes more than just aligning activities and goals – it also requires building trust. The best way to build trust is through transparent conversations; sharing the good and the bad. Employees are grown-ups, and we should treat them as such. Sheltering them from hard truths rarely does anything but undermine trust. Establishing ground rules on communication can help, but nothing can replace authenticity from the leader.

Develop managers with the appropriate leadership skills
Strong leadership is a key pillar of organizational success, but people aren’t always born with great leadership skills. Organizations have to proactively develop skilled leaders so they can create strong teams. One of the hallmarks of a great leader is an ability to identify and nurture talent. This is important not only on the executive front, but in management at every level.

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According to an article by the Harvard Business Review, frontline managers are often overlooked in leadership development efforts even though 70 to 80% of the workforce reports to them. After conducting a study with the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, we found that 79% of global executives believe the lack of frontline leadership skills negatively impacts company performance. This finding underscores how critical frontline managers are to organizational success and highlights the importance of providing them with the tools, resources and development they need to succeed.

Additionally, teams are strengthened by diversity, so a one-size-fits-all approach to management won’t work. Every employee can’t be managed the same way. Leaders must understand what motivates each person and adjust their style to fit the individual needs of their team members. The goal is to assemble a group with complementary skills and align those skills with the overall goal(s) of the company. Teams are stronger when each member feels engaged and motivated. And the best leaders know when to step back, and trust their team will successfully complete the tasks assigned. After all, your team was hired for a reason — make sure they are free to do their jobs.

Provide ongoing feedback
A strong team doesn’t mean a group comprised of people just like you — that’s the biggest mistake a leader can make. It’s easy to fall into the trap of hiring employees whom you can relate to, but building a strong team starts with understanding the strengths and weaknesses of you, the leader, and your team members. Define the hard and soft skills your team members possess and the gaps you need to fill. Strong hires will make the team more resilient and improve overall productivity.

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Once you know you’ve hired the right people, get to know your employees as individuals through regular, ongoing, two-way dialogue. By simply listening to what employees have to say and responding to their specific issues, you can provide meaningful feedback that will not only help them in their current role, but also assist them in achieving long-term career aspirations. This form of manager–employee relationship ensures that expectations, performance levels and development needs are understood and addressed.

Which brings me to my next point: performance reviews should be a year-round activity. Managers should take the opportunity to discuss and record milestones, accomplishments, successes and challenges as they occur. Employees are motivated and feel valued when you give them positive reinforcement, linking their work to the success of the business. This means you should go beyond a quick “Hey, good job!” and make time to regularly offer employees specific feedback on how their work is feeding into the broader business objectives.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you build a strong team?

Why annual performance reviews don’t work by Donna Wiederkehr, CMO of Dentsu Aegis Network.

Why being candid at work is good for business by Gregg Renfrew, founder and CEO of Beautycounter.

Don’t be afraid to hire your replacement at work by Melissa Puls, CMO of Progress Software.

Why diversity needs to go beyond race and gender by Laura Cox Kaplan, regulatory affairs and public policy leader at PwC.

Talent alone won’t make your business successful by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.

The right (and wrong) time to embrace teamwork in the office by Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation.

How horses taught this CEO to be a better leader by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.

Why this CEO thinks making mistakes is admirable by Kristen Hamilton, CEO and co-founder at Koru.

How managers can stay connected to their team by Linda Addison, U.S. managing partner at Norton Rose Fulbright.

The difference between a great leader and a good one by Kerry Healey, president of Babson College.

The easiest way to reduce employee turnover by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

3 misconceptions about leading a successful team by Samantha Dwinell, vice president of talent management at Texas Instruments.

How to build a strong team without micromanaging by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Here’s the secret to getting better employees by Julia Hartz, co-founder and president of Eventbrite.