How to Challenge and Support Your Team

There’s a fine balance when pushing your team to achieve excellence while also sustaining their morale. PM trainer Susanne Madsen shows you how to walk that fine line in this short tutorial video.

Here’s a shot of the whiteboard for your reference!


In Review: How to Challenge and Support Your Team

Susanne compared the balance of challenging and supporting your team with the classic Chinese yin yang symbol. Managing a team is, indeed, a balance. Susanne notes that for leaders, they need to bring out the more feminine attributes of nurturing and guiding your team,  while also bringing forward the more “masculine” demanding and challenging traits. She mapped her approach to this in the matrix diagram.

Where are you most comfortable on that matrix? She asks you to explore that question: Are you more supportive or challenging when working with your team? There is no right or wrong place on this diagram, it’s more about knowing your inherent approach, so you can find areas to stretch yourself to achieve that balance for your team.

For example, Susanne noted, when high performance is expected of your team, then challenge them. When you’re giving your team a development plan, however, then you’re on the supportive end of the spectrum. It’s all a matter of being cognizant of what’s necessary at any given time, and of course, according to the individual. See Susanne’s earlier post on how to influence different people on your team.

Pro-Tip: One thing to keep in mind is the overall happiness of your team. This, of course, falls on the support side of the above equation, but it speaks to challenge your team in that you don’t want to overburden them. To better understand how a happy team is a more productive team, read this article by our blog’s managing editor.

Video Transcription

Hi, I’m Susanne Madsen. Welcome to this whiteboard session on how to challenge and support your team.

You’ll see that I’ve drawn up a matrix behind me. What we have is on the horizontal axis, the amount of support you give your team. That’s the yin element. This is traditionally associated with the female aspect, the nurturing aspect of being a leader. On the vertical axis we’ve got the challenging aspect. This is also yang. Traditionally, we associate that with being masculine, hard, demanding.

The question is, where do you operate most of your time as a project manager and leader in this matrix? Are you more comfortable being supporting or challenging? If you operate most of your time at the bottom right-hand corner, it means that you are very comfortable supporting. You listen. You nurture your team. You give them what they need. You help them grow and develop, maybe by sending them on courses.

But on the other hand, you’re not so good at challenging them. The stretch goal is missing. That can create complacency in a team. But on the other hand, if you operate most of your time in the top left-hand corner of this matrix, it means that you’re very comfortable challenging your team. You set the goals. You tell them what’s expected, without much flexibility, maybe. You’re not really there to support them. You don’t ask them what they need from you in order to reach that goal, and that creates stress. Maybe you have tried that yourself, working for a very demanding boss.

At the bottom left hand side of the matrix we’ve got someone who is really unattached. They’re not comfortable being so supporting because that’s all a bit soft and woolly for them. But they’re also not comfortable being too challenging, because that’s altogether a little bit too hard. The result is they’re not there. They withdraw. You could also call them Teflon managers. That does create detachment in the team.

What you need to do to create high performance, is you need to challenge and support your team equally. That is at the top right hand corner. It is very motivating to be told where the standard is. People feel needed by that. It is very, very motivating to know what’s expected. But, as a manager and leader, you must absolutely give people the support to get there. You create a development plan. You agree what’s required. But you also agree what is needed, and how you can support the individual to reach that objective.

So again, consider where you are in this matrix and how you can work towards providing ample support and challenge for your team. If you’re in doubt where you operate most of the time, why not draw up this matrix on a piece of paper? Put it in front of different team members and ask them how they perceive you. That may take some courage from you, but it’s a very, very powerful feedback tool.

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