I recently had the privilege to work with a team of inspired, creative people. This team works incredibly hard, puts in long hours, and members often have to travel long distances. In addition they have the challenge of getting multi stakeholder buy-in and collaboration from internal colleagues as well as external clients and partners for the programme of one of the most visible global events.  The expectations of them are high, the quality demanded of them is higher.

The team described themselves as “passionate and committed” and their managers as “supportive and approachable”. I asked what contributed to their success and  achievements. They unanimously responded that the most critical factor to their success were the internal values and structure of the team.

They said their managers “had their backs, and were willing to challenge the “status quo”; managers took time to “know people’s individual strengths and weaknesses” and to “provide opportunities that allowed “distributed leadership” across a variety of projects that both stretched individuals and matched their preferred working styles.  They also credited their managers with “recognising contributions” and for their “thoughtful, diligent recruitment” and “robust planning”.

So how do you create such a positive and productive environment where people enjoy their work and engage with such passion and commitment, and also have fun? The following five behaviours can help you get there.

  1. Know your people

Meet with them individually. Ask, What is the best part of your job? When do you feel most passionate or proud of what you do? Identify the moment or the task that makes it so good.

Listen to the answers; they describe ‘purposeful moments’. Now work with the person to ‘sculpt’ their job so that they can achieve as many as possible ‘purposeful moments’.  If relating to people is really important to a person then find ways that this is part of their work. Also recognise that this defines how they would prefer to relate to you, so instead of mailing, call them or better still speak to them face to face.  If a person gets more satisfaction and pride in establishing structures or crafting policies that have broader impact then find ways that they can contribute to such projects.

To the extent that you are able, make the things that matter to them most part of their job description. Some managers claim that organisational systems prevent them from sculpting someone’s job, but this is an easy out. Even the most bureaucratic systems can tolerate a certain amount of job sculpting.  Changes or different priorities can be captured in the most structured performance management systems.

  1. Give clear directions

Describe clearly what is expected as an outcome or delivery, be specific about the by when and how many if this is critical.

Provide the necessary resources to complete the job. Help remove obstacles or roadblocks that need to be cleared away. Then get out of the way and let them do their job. Make sure they have the space to be creative and calculate the level of risk they can take without damaging themselves, the project or the organisation. Validate that the outcome is understood, capture it in some formal or informal way so that both you and the person can monitor and track progress.

  1. Keep your hands off but your eyes on

When parents teach their kids to swim, they might start in the pool and provide physical support, they might then move away and provide instruction and encouragement ready to lean in if need be. They might eventually leave the pool and monitor from the side. When the child swims you might take your hands off, but even from the side of the pool you never take your eyes off. This is a little like managing. You might initially have to provide some close guidance, coaching and supervision, you then move further away and finally let them go; however you must always have an eye on what’s going on and where things are. Provide a light touch, and not a heavy hand that makes them feel micro-managed.

  1. Recognise milestones and achievements

Teams that report being high performing and having fun recognise achievements both personal and professional. This programme team had just celebrated not only the success of an annual meeting, but recent staff departures, arrivals, birthdays and pregnancies. They were almost ‘caked-out’ when we met. But nothing would prevent them from celebrating the marriage of a colleague that weekend.

Recognition for achievement is as simple as saying “Thank you”. Make it immediate and specific. It can be a private word or a public occasion. Make the deed match the person and the achievement, another reason for knowing your people.

  1. Show your human face

The members of your staff are human. Yes robust planning is required to keep projects on track, yes deliverables need to be met, and yes there are times when people have just got to do what has to be done. In addition to your guidance and direction, your team needs to see and to feel that you care. Have the courage to show your vulnerability. You don’t have all the answers, no-one does; so don’t pretend that you do. Ask for help or support in brainstorming problems. Admit you don’t know when you really don’t know –and find out or get someone else to find out. Admit when you get something wrong, and aplogise if you say something hurtful.