Let’s see, you’ve been promoted to team leader and, along with your new title, you get a lot of new perks, right? You get the best parking space, you get the opportunity to impact change and share ideas and you get to solve all the problems that come up yourself. Wait. What?

Don’t let that become your story! You’ve seen this happen before, for sure. Maybe you’ve even had a hand in it. There’s something wrong on the front line. Someone isn’t getting along with others or pulling their weight. There’s a technology glitch that seems unresolvable. Or maybe it’s that persistent, angry patron who just won’t leave the team members alone! The solution? Elect someone to go knock on the team leader’s door (that’s you now, remember) and say “fix this, will you please?”

There are multiple alternatives a team leader can take when this all-too-common occurrence happens. First, they can fix it, or at least try to. It might be harder because 1) they’re not involved day-to-day so they’re missing a few facts or 2) others involved don’t really know them so they don’t trust their solutions or, most frequently, 3) the leader has other things on their plate and doesn’t really have time to address and resolve the situation so it sits, and ferments, and gets worse while no one does anything to fix it.

How about a new solution? Instead of solving problems, you develop problem solvers on your team. Every single member is, after all, an adult and well prepared to know and understand the rules, policies, and procedures required for a smooth operation. If they could only add to that knowledge some enhanced skills in the areas of conflict resolution, communication, and creativity the instead of one person doing all the solving, you’d have many!

Further, when team members are trained and then trusted to solve challenges by applying their own knowledge and good sense, their overall confidence is increased and their resulting contributions to the organization are enhanced as well. Also, as their skills grow, so too do their future aspirations, especially if they have a natural affinity for leadership to go along with their enhanced abilities.

Someone isn’t getting along with a team member? Imagine if the two of them were to sit down and have a respectful, professional conversation and resolve their differences? Someone on the team isn’t pulling their weight? What if a co-worker were to offer to trade some assignments so that each ends up with work they’re both more suited to and enjoy more? That technology glitch might be best explained by the team member whose strengths are in software management. Perhaps they could be the one who calls the IT department and begins working towards a solution? And that one annoying patron who seems, for some reason, to leave a certain team member alone…maybe she can be the one to kindly suggest another approach might be best?

All of these potential problem solving steps can and should take place without you involved, as long as you’ve done YOUR job as the leader and developed, supported, and trusted your team members to manage their own success!

Catherine Hakala-Ausperk with the American Library Assocaition, author of Build Great Teams

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