How do your people know that they are a ‘Team’?

Team training

It may sound like an odd question but when you are thinking about team training it is always worth asking yourself whether the individuals are ever really treated as a ‘team’.

Of course they know they are a team, after all they all sit in the same area under a sign that says ‘Finance Team’ or ‘Sales Team’ or ‘IT team’.

But really that’s just lip service.

Research shows quite clearly that people work best as part of a shared enterprise, one with shared goals and an understood view of the overall aim.

Just being told ‘you are a team’ doesn’t make people behave like one.

The art of team management is to get a group of disparate individuals to work at a level which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Why on earth does this make a difference?

All the evidence shows that bonding people together as part of something bigger than themselves actually reduces staff turnover (and we know how expensive that is).

There’s also really good evidence that when people are working together as a team rather than as individuals they actually become much more efficient.

So how can you foster a ‘team’?

I’ve seen all sort of whacky theories over the years but I’m only going to include ones that actually work.

Understand your aim

What’s the point of your team?

What are you aiming to achieve?

By when?

Have you told anyone?

If you don’t know what you are supposed to be achieving then your team won’t either.

If you do know, but you haven’t told people then that’s worse than useless as you’ll have people working to all sorts of agendas

Sit down, work out what your eventual aim is for the team and then introduce it at your next team meeting.

Tell people where they fit into the whole

Engagement is increased massively if people know what their individual role is.

Letting people know how important they are to the team boosts morale and more importantly lets them know that they can’t let the side down.

Make time to get together as a team

Seriously, what’s the point of being a team if you never sit together and discuss the issues that are facing you?

How do you formulate a shared understanding of the upcoming workload, performance and future direction?

I like to have weekly 1-hour team meetings where we go through how we’ve done and what we can expect to happen shortly.

What’s interesting is that although these start out in a really stilted manner, after about three or four meetings they start to be really productive in unexpected ways.

Invest and train individuals but also invest in the team

A great way to foster team cohesion is to have shared learning opportunities.

This can be as simple as one person from somewhere else in the company coming in to speak about what they do and what issues they face.

This works super well for getting your team more integrated into the company as a whole too.

Praise your team in public

Make sure that if your team has done something really well then you tell people about it

and make sure your team see you telling someone about it.

Stick up for your team

Now I’m not suggesting that you go around picking fights but if something comes up that is contentious and you are absolutely in the right then I say fight your corner

and again make sure your team see you sticking up for them

Take any excuse to have a bit of a social

It’s so difficult today to make time to get together outside work but if you want to develop a team with a really strong bond then you need to get them to like (or at least respect) each other as individuals.

I like to take random opportunities to take my team out for lunch.

So maybe we finish an audit successfully. I’ll take them off down the pub and buy them lunch.

It’s not going to break the bank and a couple of hours out of the business won’t make much difference to the company but it means the world to people who rarely get thanked for doing their job.

Make sure you invest in team training

So I would say this right? After all, I’m selling team training!

But don’t take my word for it there’s plenty of academic and anecdotal evidence that investing a small amount of money into team training makes people more effective and reduces the dreaded turnover.

Oh, and while we’re about it, don’t just get some team training, start off with some proper, effective management training too!

The overall message is…

Team management is actually a job.

So if you were a decorator you wouldn’t expect that a wall would just suddenly paint itself without you putting in any effort, so why should you expect a team to manage itself without you actually doing any ‘management’?

Management isn’t hard but you do need to put some effort in and you need to think about it.

And you also need to take my first-time manager course!

How to run a 1-2-1

One of the bedrocks of team management is putting aside time for each of your people to talk about their performance.

My favourite method is to institute a 1-2-1 regime where you get together with your staff for an hour a month and just speak about how things have gone and where you see them going.

Now you may decide to have different time frames, for instance, you may decide that in a fast moving company you want to do them more frequently for a shorter period of time, or you may decide that you want to do weekly 1-2-1s with your new staff whilst they are on probation.

But either way if you want to be an awesome manager then you need to speak with your team.

What’s the point

Motivating your team is all about getting engagement, being part of a shared goal and letting people understand where they fit in and what is expected of them.

If you are the sort of manager who doesn’t bother discussing this sort of stuff with your reports then you are probably operating at slightly below average and no-one likes that.

What outcomes do you want from the meeting?

One of the best methods of making sure your meetings are ultra productive is to understand what you want from the meeting before you go in.

When I run 1-2-1s I look for several outcomes;

1 I want to develop a shared view of how the last month went

2 I want to develop a shared view of what needs to be achieved in the next month

3 I want to let the employee know how they are doing overall, especially if the company has some form of annual appraisal or bonus scheme.

4 I want my direct reports to have a confidential forum where they can raise things that are troubling them and where we can work on a solution

5 I want a formal method of saying thank you for their hard work during the month

6 I want to reinforce to them where they fit into my plans and how I see their career developing.

So how do you actually run the 1-2-1?

For my formal ones, such as the annual appraisal then there will probably be a specific form to fill in but for my monthly meetings I generally prefer a more relaxed style.

I take notes, and I refer to them in future meetings, I’ll also use the goals we set at the start of the year as a kind of touchstone to measure their current performance against.

In general though the meeting starts with me simply saying ‘how do you think this month has gone?’.

This does a couple of things; it gives me an understanding of how each of my reports sees the last month in term of workload and their performance but also as an open question (one without a yes/no answer) it allows them to speak about what is concerning them.

At points I will bring it back to my three main themes, how has it gone, what will we do in the future and how is this aligning with the team and company goals.

Overall though you need to find your own style.

Beware of people telling you that one way is better than another, you need to match the style of your 1-2-1s with your style of management.

Overall though you need to remember that this is a forum for the employee, it’s not for you to spend an hour moaning at them and telling them about your cat.

Do’s and Don’ts


  • Don’t use it as a semi-disciplinary- that’s not what a 1-2-1 is for
  • Don’t cancel or rearrange unless you absolutely have to
  • Don’t expect instant results – people need time to get used to the format
  • Don’t try and do some form of group 1-2-1, it never works


  • Explain the format of the meeting and what the aim is
  • let things flow and if they go slightly off tangent then that’s fine, you want your reports to feel comfortable. You can bring them back on point after a reasonable time
  • Be positive – OK so not everyone is going to be a superstar but you can find some positive stuff from everyone’s month
  • Ask what people are looking for from their work. What do they want to achieve? Where do they want to go? What help do they need?

And finally

Don’t forget to say thank you.

Even if things have gone badly, you need to find some method of ending the meeting on a positive.

SMART targets aren’t so bad after all

I’ve recently seen a couple of articles that have heaped opprobrium on SMART targets.

Apparently they are old fashioned and not at all fit for purpose for the 21st century.

Then the pieces go on to say how targets should, in fact, be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Not in those words though.

A Rose by any other name…

I remember years ago having a chat with a potential client about project management methods.

He really wanted to use Six Sigma to run his project (I know).

My point was that there are lots of different names for management tools, but the important point is not that we are using the cool and trendy names, it’s that we are actually DOING the thing that it says on the tin.

I didn’t get the gig.

So we can run our project using AGILE or PRINCE but at the end of the day we still have to find a way to communicate with one another about the project whether you call it a scrum or a Colin or a banana.

So are SMART targets bad?

I don’t think so.

The fact of the matter is that SMART is still around because the concept is fundamentally good.

In concept a smart target is simply understanding exactly what you are going to do, when you are going to do it and making sure you’re not running off into the long grass.

If you don’t want to use SMART then why not think up a cool and trendy name like TRAMS.

If you are so desperate to look like one of the cool kids on the bus then put on your dungarees, grow a big moustache and use your TRAMS goals setting.

Promoting someone? Don’t make this common mistake

I want you to imagine taking on a new person.

They’ve never done the job before but they seem like they have the right attitude and you like them so you decide to invest.

On their first day on the job you get them a chair and a computer and tell them to get on with it.

“Isn’t there any training?” they ask.

“Nah, you were great at the last place you worked so you’ll be fine at this job” you say.

“But I explained I’ve never done this work before so it’s all new to me”

“You’ll be fine” You reply. “anyway I’ve got a meeting now so must dash”.

Of course you’d never do this would you?

That would be crazy.

Why would you go through all that effort of recruiting them and then not give them the skills to do the job?

But oddly, most companies seem to think that this approach is fine when the promote someone.

It happened to me…

My first ever management job came at the age of nineteen.

The regional manager had just fired my boss “because he was rubbish” and now I was next in line.

The training course involved two terrible pieces of advice and a book thrown across a desk at me.

It’s no surprise that I bombed but I probably received more training than most people.

Why management is different

Being a manager is totally different and we’re deluding ourselves if we think someone who is a great call centre operator will automatically be an amazing manager.

You have to get used to telling people what to do, you have to get used to understanding the mission for your team, you have to deal with difficult people and any number of other issues.

And worst of all you have to manage the people who were your friends.

As a front line worker you turn up for work, do a good job and then go home. Your performance is dependent upon yourself.

As a new manager, your performance is down to the people in your team, and that’s a lot of stress.

Don’t lose a great worker and a potentially brilliant manager

So what happened to me in my first line management job?

I’d like to say I turned it all around and things were amazing – but they weren’t.

I didn’t do very well, didn’t know how to change it, received no help then got discouraged and left.

So the business lost someone who was good at his job, and they were still looking for a new manager!

Often, businesses promote someone to a job they have never done, give them little back up and then don’t allow them to step back into the role they were great at.

So what should you do?

There are some simple things you can do to make sure that your potential star lives up to their billing.

First of all remove all the pressure by telling them that if things don’t go well or they don’t enjoy it then they can step back into their old job, no hard feelings.

Secondly explain exactly what the focus of the job is and set performance levels so that they know exactly what is expected of them.

Third, be prepared to give up some of your time. The more effort you put in at the front end then the better it will go for all concerned.

But what if I don’t have the time?

Not every manager has the time to sit down with their staff and give quality training so what can you do?

Well obviously I’m going to say management training right?

I’d like to think that our training is brilliant because it comes from the lived experience of over two decades of front line management.

We help companies train their management cohort so that they have the grounding in the techniques that allows them to begin adding real value right away.

Give me a call and we can talk over the different options for supercharging your managers.

Also if you like free stuff then scroll down and sign up for my free tip of the month.

Why you shouldn’t be worried about IR35 (and why you should)

Have you sorted your IR35 arrangements yet?

The rules around IR35 are due to change in April 2020 and whilst that might seem along time away in fact you may well be engaging with contractors right now who will still be in place come the changes.

If the people I speak to every day about the subject of IR35 are anything to go by then there’s a distinct lack of awareness on the subject.

The problem is, of course that ignorance isn’t a defence in law and if you haven’t started to make preparations then you may well be caught out.

So why should you be worried?

Well to start with you need to understand the rules.

Which is all well and good but HMRC hasn’t published the final rules yet. Having said that we can say that we pretty much know what is going to be in there.

A badly thought out response to IR35 will cause you problems, either through penalties and interest or by increasing the cost and difficulty of finding good contractors.

So why shouldn’t you be worried?

Actually for well organised companies the changes shouldn’t cause too much of a problem.

Sure you’ll need to put in place systems to assess your contractor’s statuses (statii?)

And you’ll need to have a way of producing, documenting and distributing determinations.

But if you are already using contractors and they fall outside of IR35 now then all you need to do is have a way of proving it.

And if you are an official small or micro company then you probably won’t get caught up in all of this.

So what should you do?

The simple answer is to read and inwardly digest the rules around IR35. Then work up a plan to deal with it.

You can take the approach that you are going to become a subject matter expert or you can invest in some training.

Either way pretending it will all go away is unfortunately not an option.

Here’s a thing – I do an awesome IR35 training course. It’s cheap and good and it’s delivered by someone who has spent the last 19 years living with IR35.

As a starting point why not download my free white paper on practical IR35 for the private sector? It’s totally free and when you sign up you’ll get added to my IR35 list which will get you all the latest on this issue delivered directly to your inbox.

Free IR35 resources

IR35 is something we could all do without right?

But we have to deal with it so I’ve put together a few free resources to help you on your way.

Check back from time to time as I will be updating this page as we get closer to April 2020.

Our free IR35 whitepaper

Fill in your name and email address to get our free whitepaper which details what the latest state of play is and what you need to be doing to prepare.*

Government consultation 2

This is the consultation document that was sent out in March 2019.

IR35 for HR managers Course

OK so this one isn’t free but if you’d value some face to face training on all the impacts of IR35 in the public sector then have a look here

Summary of consultation responses

Dave Chaplin of Contractor Calculator has produced an excellent summary of the responses to the governments’ IR35 consultation.

There’s lots of detail there but if you don’t have time then I’d suggest at the very least checking out the executive summary.

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Why your job ad puts people off

So I have looked at a lot of job ads

I’ve applied for a lot and I have recruited a lot and I’ve come to a conclusion – most job ads stink.

It’s not that they are inherently wrong, it’s just that they don’t really do what you want them to do.

Job ads are the David Cameron/Tony Blair/Nick Clegg of the recruitment world.

They are designed to appeal to as many people as possible without offending anyone.

Now you may say that this is exactly what you want. After all, you want as many people as possible to be interested in your job ad don’t you?

Pah! I say.

Let me give you a choice.

You can have 500 CVs through the door of roughly similar candidates who are all probably pretty good at what they do and could all probably do your job and would probably work for the money your paying.

Or you could have one CV from an awesome candidate who gets exactly what you are trying to achieve and is ready to buy into the mission even though you’re not paying as much as Goldman Sachs.

Which would you take?

In the first instance, you have to sift through 500 CVs, interview loads of candidates that you probably like a bit and you think could probably perform.

You take them on, they do a decent job, then nine months down the line they get a better offer and leave.

They never bought into you and they never bought into your mission.

In the second you get a committed, engaged and enthusiastic person right from the start.

So here’s a couple of job ads

Job ad 1

A prestigious client based in the area is in the market for a new Head of Finance. Reporting directly into the MD, you will be fully responsible for the production of all the accounts and for the hiring, training and development of its team … currently standing at 9 but with potential for growth.
The principal functions of the role will include: –
– Developing business strategies
– Implementing proper controls
– Preparing the annual budgetary plan
– Identify potential financial risks
The ideal candidate will be an ACA/ACCA Qualified candidate with at least 3 years experience within a Service environment at least at the Finance Manager level.
Please apply in the first instance to and I’ll consider your application accordingly.

Inspired? Interested?

What I found remarkable about this is that it’s all about what the candidate is going to give TO THE COMPANY.

There’s nothing about the company mission, nothing about the culture, nothing about what the candidate will get back and nothing about where they fit in.

Oh and by the way. If you are recruiting someone to run a team of 9 then you need a leader not someone who’s good at budgeting.

Compare it to this one

Job ad 2

5 years ago my best friend Luke and I had a dream to set up our own brewery.
We wanted to brew amazing beers and we wanted to do it in our home town.
We had no money, no premises and no staff but we did have this dream
5 years on and things are going really well but we’re scared.
We are so big now that we need someone to handle the finances for us. We know so little about accounting that we don’t even know what interview questions to ask.
Can you help?

The difference is that the second ad is the one that acts as a filter.

It removes all the people that would have applied but they don’t like the idea of working for a small company, a brewery or somewhere that is a bit in chaos.

It enthuses people who love the idea of making a difference, who love to be challenged and who love chaos.

The first job ad gets mercenaries the second gets disciples.

The problem is that as a society we would see the first ad as a success because more people would apply.

But they’d be the wrong people.

Why you need to onboard properly (unless you like recruiting like an idiot)

Onboarding is really really important. Really really really important.

Let me give you a great example.

I was once hired by a company to run their finance systems refresh. This was a million dollar project that had been mandated by their US parent so it was pretty important.

I got the gig and turned up at 8:50 on the Monday morning ready to start work.

When I spoke to the receptionist she looked at me with a mixture of confusion, derision and disdain.

It turned out that the guy who had hired me hadn’t told anyone (he was a blue but then that’s another story).

He hadn’t arranged any resources. I didn’t even have anywhere to sit.

And best of all he’d gone off on two weeks holiday.

So guess how that made me feel.

And guess how I felt towards the company.

Now as an interim I am used to these types of situation but if it was a permanent hire then I can imagine how they would have felt.

Why it’s important

It’s a fact that the key to motivating staff is showing them that they belong, that they are wanted and that they have a place in the organisation.

Employees that feel that they have a valued contribution to make are much more likely to do awesome work and are much more likely to stick around.

So ask yourself the question – would your business be more profitable with highly motivated, committed and keen employees from day one, or by having a high turnover of bored and unengaged people that turn up just for the paycheck?

That’s why it is important.

The first 90 days thing

It’s an established fact that an employee has 90 days to set the tone of their employment.

If they start off being a keen, go-getter who achieves great things then that’s how people will view them for years afterwards.

But the same is true of the business.

If the employee feels valued from day one, if they feel that they are needed and wanted and that they have an important place in your organisation they that’s how they will feel about your company in the future.

You have 90 days to convince your new hires that they belong.

Maybe less.

So what should you do then?

The best onboarding experience I ever had was with a company that didn’t have a lot in the way of resources.

I turned up again at 8:50 and sat in the reception with another new start.

Five minutes later a guy walks in and says hello and shakes our hands.

Turns out he’s the CEO and he spent five minutes telling us each how glad he was we’d arrived and how important we were to the future of the company.

How do you think we felt after that?

Just 5 minutes.

A few weeks later I found out it wasn’t a chance meeting. He does it with all his new hires.

Reckons that it’s the human thing to do.

Funnily enough, his company was full of people who were committed, engaged and loyal.

So my first tip is to start an employees’ tenure by telling them how important they are to the future of the business and how they fit in with the mission (oh yeah and what the mission is).

Make sure you do the housekeeping thing.

Tell them where to turn up and when (I normally start my new hires at 10am to allow me time to make sure any urgent issues are dealt with).

Make sure someone is there to greet them

And if you ever start a new person and they don’t have a chair, a desk, an email account and a login to the main system then you aren’t worth the money you are being paid.

Have a first two weeks plan and go through it with them.

Introduce them to the most important people in their job universe and make sure you’ve done all the HR things so they don’t distract somewhere down the line.

A word about mentors

You need to appoint one.

Some companies call them ‘buddies’ but whatever you do you need to provide one.

The mentor needs to be someone who has been with the company long enough to understand the culture and unwritten rules but they also need to be new enough to remember what it was like on their first day.

The mentor needs to be local enough to the newbie to be approachable but not so close that they are the only person your new hire speaks to during the day.

And they need to be positive.

We’re too small, we don’t have the resources

Cop out frankly.

In fact if you are a small company you are in a better place to make sure that your new hire has an awesome onboarding experience than if you are a large corporate.

Even if you are a one-person company and this is your first ever hire then you can still take the time to tell the person how important they are and where they fit in.

Onboarding is a pain.

If you think this then there’s no hope for you.

Bringing new people into your organisation is the best thing ever.

Just imagine what awesome people could do for your business.

It doesn’t take long to work out a standard process for bringing new people in and making their joining experience epic.

Recruiting? – Start before you start

It’s always surprising to me that when a manager needs to recruit, they don’t start with where they want to get to.

It seems that when there’s a gap in the team then that’s the perfect moment to have a think about how you want the team to look, operate, be.

Just like a project because this IS a project.

You need to know what the company mission is, what the teams part in that mission is and what each of the component parts needs to do.

So what does your team look like in the end?

Is it a project team?

Is it a temporary turnaround or integration team?

Or is it a permanent team.

When you have that then you’ll know the people you need and more importantly the attitudes, aptitudes and skills you need to build your team.

Value diversity

Value diversity, but not just man/woman straight/gay type diversity. This is about diversity of thought.

Interestingly research has shown that companies that have just one woman on the board are more profitable than ones that don’t.

The reason that diversity works so well is that it brings in so many different points of view.

The most diverse teams are also the most innovative.

But you also need to bring in a diversity of ability, aims, enjoyment.

Imagine a finance team. You need the people who are stars, who are going somewhere, who have something about them but you also need the footsoldiers.

You need people who are going to be happy just sitting there processing invoices every day.

You need people who love financial accounts but don’t want to talk to people

You need business partners that have no interest in producing a P&L but love taking it out to their operational managers and explaining it.

Value outcomes, not numbers

So a professional manager will look at where they want to get to, analyse the resources they have, then look to recruit.

A good place to start is Belbin’s team roles. This describes the kinds of behaviours that really effective teams exhibit such as completer finisher, co-ordinator and shaper.

When you are recruiting it is also an ideal spur to look at your current team members and see if they are in the right place, or if moving them to the open slot could be an ideal development opportunity.

As a professional manager, you would also be remiss if you didn’t take a look at the whole situation and decide whether you actually need the extra person or if you could actually do things more efficiently.

Now this doesn’t always happen in this neat way. Often you are given a team and told to get on with it. But that doesn’t mean you have no options.

You can still go through the process of assessing what roles you need to fill and then putting all of your square pegs into square holes.

Again it’s always a good time to think about extending people’s experience and giving them development opportunities by swapping job roles or redesigning them altogether.

Above all don’t just automatically recruit someone exactly the same as the last person to keep your headcount the same. You are better than that.

I genuinely believe that a top class manager wouldn’t even put a call into a recruiter or ad site before they’ve gone through a rigorous process of understanding what they, and more importantly their company actually needs.

Recruiting right is the bedrock of forming an awesome team, taking some time to think about what you and your company wants and needs is the starting point and if you do this then  I know you’ll build an epic group.