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5 Keys to Leading a Successful Operations Team

Business is first and foremost about people. Your employees and customers are the blood running through the veins of a company, touching every aspect of business operations from ideas to planning and creating products or services to quality control, sales and fulfillment. So, for a successful operations manager, top notch people skills and communication skills are a top priority.

“Different personalities, preferences, work styles, career goals, and communication approaches can create enormous variation and often cause conflict within teams. However, these ever-changing, ever-evolving dynamics are essential to a team’s effectiveness, despite the challenges they pose to the leader and individuals during group collaboration,” Diane Stuart, program director for the Center for Professional and Executive Development Program Director at the University of Wisconsin, said in 2017.

While many business and operations models have been affected or even transformed in 2020 by the shifting winds, whether it be the pandemic or politics, the basic keys to leading an operations team remains the same. At Boost Midwest, our track record at navigating business operations to greater efficiencies, team structures, and outcomes can help adapt your operation to a successful 2021.

Below are the top five traits operations team leaders, with some differences parsed out between leading a new team or inheriting an existing team.

1. The ability to define a vision.

The team leader sets the direction for the team from the start. The team should be clear on what they are doing and why, that is, the overarching goal of the team’s collective effort. Equally important is delineating how the team will be led. Questions team leaders should know and communicate the answers to these questions as they assume leadership of an operations team:

  • What degree of autonomy falls within the parameters of the operation?

  • What information is expected to be reported and how often?

  • Are their strict pathways to reach desired goals or do team members have choice in deciding the methods?

All of the above should be clearly defined from the outset of the team’s operations. While this may prove more straightforward when leading a new team on a new product, when inheriting an existing team, skillful navigation in assuming leadership is essential. The Harvard Business Review describes it as repairing an airplane in mid-flight: “You can’t just shut down the plane’s engines while your rebuild them…You need to maintain stability while moving ahead.” In this situation, step 2, below, is even more important.

2. Prioritizes qualities of team members.

For an efficient team working towards the same common goal, an operations team leader should first determine if individual team members are in the right position. One way to do this is list the desired qualities in team members and then assign percentages to each one. The assigned percentages depend on how important each quality is for the specific task and should equal 100%. Traits that operations team leaders look for, with differing priorities depending on a team member’s role, are:

  • Competence.

  • Trustworthiness.

  • Energy.

  • People skills.

  • Focus.

  • Judgment.

It helps to keep in mind that some qualities, like focus and people skills, can be learned more easily than inherent qualities like trustworthiness and energy. The operations team leaders should ask themselves:

  • What qualities should people have in order to tackle the particular challenges your team faces?

  • How important are diverse or complementary skills in the group?

  • Which attributes do you think you can shape through your leadership?

At Boost Midwest, our business operations team is skilled at determining where teams are efficient and where and how they can be improved.

3. Has top organizational skills.

A well-organized operations leader has the ability to focus on different projects without getting distracted by the processes involved in each specific project. This allows the operations leader to plan, execute and monitor each project to its conclusion without losing focus—or spend time looking for misplaced documents. At Boost Midwest, we find the top organizational skills for business operations leaders usually include:

  • Time management.

  • Planning.

  • Scheduling.

  • Resource allocation.

  • Delegation.

4. Knows technology.

Automation, quality control and nearly all aspects of business operations have their match in technology. But is tech the answer to every operations issue? Maybe or maybe not. An operations leader should:

  • Be familiar with the available technology.

  • Keeps an eye beyond the current tech curve

  • Be innovative in using technology to replace manual processes.

  • Be knowledgeable about technology compliance when creating processes.

Boost Midwest can help operations leaders navigate technology to select the right technology and where to use it when seeking to streamline operations processes.

5. Has great people skills.

An operations team leader must communicate across team members, external stakeholders and senior management. This means understanding the cultural and other differences among individuals who comprise a team and internal and external stakeholders. A great team leader will be able to communicate, listen and relate on a professional level, and on a personal one, too. Specific skills include:

  • The ability to listen.

  • Communicates clearly using direct language.

  • Tolerance of diverse cultures.

  • The ability to resolve conflicts.

  • Techniques for mediating disputes.

  • Trust-building skills.

  • Promoting team building.

Leading a successful operations team requires a wide palette of knowledge and skills across interpersonal relations, technology and best practices. Boost Midwest understands that skills and/or knowledge gaps can arise unexpectedly and recognizes that the right operations partner should be ready to work with existing and new business operations to ensure successful outcomes through helping create team structures and leadership that matches the needs of your organization.

To learn more about how we can help, or simply to meet our team, schedule your free consultation with us today.

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