Career Success

How Do You Balance Time Managing a Team and a Busy Workload?

By Sarah AlexanderNovember 17, 2015

An age-old challenge for first-time managers is learning to delegate, in order to effectively balance their individual responsibilities and team development. In fact, a recent HBR article cites manager failure rates as high as 50% in the first year of management. Oftentimes, training, mentorship, or coaching can help new managers take control of this situation and successfully make the leap to become an effective manager and team leader. The first step in this process is asking for help and learning from others. With this in mind, we asked seasoned executives from our community of mentors:

How do you balance time spent on managerial tasks vs. your own work?

Here are their thoughts:

Dinesh Bettadapur – Business Development Executive, Coventor
Dinesh has over 23 years of experience in the electronics manufacturing industry.

This is a very good question that almost all managers encounter at some point or another during their careers. Here are a few suggestions that could help:

First and foremost, figure out how you are spending your time on a weekly basis. Map this out into various categories: time spent on managing, your own tasks, meetings, etc.

Second, identify obvious inefficiencies in how you are spending your time and make the necessary corrections. For instance, do you have a specific time each week that you are meeting with your team members or are you allowing them to knock on your door any time they need help, perhaps multiple times each week? Have you coached them to come prepared with all their questions and issues each time they meet with you? Or are you having to spend extra time with them just to figure out the problem?

Last, block out times on your calendar each week in which you simply cannot be interrupted for any reason other than absolute emergencies and stubbornly stick to it! Use these times to get your own work done.

Steve Joanis – Engineering Manager, ENE Systems
Steve has over 13 years of experience in management in the education management industry.

You may have to invest time in your team for a while, but the goal should be to build a team and a culture that is self-sufficient to the point where you have ample time to do your own tasks and maybe even reach higher. Offloading “management tasks” to your team maybe possible and advisable in some cases.

First, there is a psychological aspect to management transitions. You may find it difficult to let things go a way that is different than you would have done it. When I first took a managerial role, I still did engineered drawings. When I instituted a peer review process, I quickly realized that I wasn’t the best engineer! This realization helped me to “let go.”

I recommend thinking of yourself as a coach rather than a “manager.” The main difference is that a coach should inspire people to do the right things and a manager simply pushes people to complete tasks. If people come to you with ideas on how to do things better or at least differently, you know that they are inspired. The job has become more than a series of tasks.

I like to train people on specific tasks at first to help them understand the tasks. I spend time with them so that they understand the culture we are building. Eventually, I will “throw them to wolves” when the stakes are low (if that’s possible). Many people are afraid to do things on their own if they are worried their manager won’t like what they’ve done. It’s up to you to make your team feel that they are able to take risks.

Caroline Wood – Head of School, K12
Caroline has over 19 years of experience in business development in the education management industry.

The best gift to give any member working for you is empowerment through responsibility.  I concur with my colleagues that delegation is the key to sustainable growth.  Frequent communication with your team to proactively discuss challenges allows for solution-oriented behavior versus reaction. If you do not have time to do your job, someone else is not doing his/hers. The question is, why? Is it training, poor mentorship, a breakdown in communication?  Talk to those around you everyday and get ahead of your schedule – don’t let the schedule get ahead of you!

Joe da Silva – President, JDS Agencies
Joe has over 42 years of experience in business development in the wholesale industry.

There is a very fine line between helping and enabling your team.  What you have to do is find which side of that line you are standing on. You must make them self-sufficient and one of the best ways to do this is by giving them the latitude to do things on their own without the fear of reprisals.

One method that I have used is using presumptive questioning when a team member comes to me and asks a question that I know is readily available to them with a little effort.  As an example: “What do we charge for XYZ to ABC Ltd?” I would respond: “Not sure Bill, when you looked back in sales history on the computer, what did it show?”  Bill now knows where to get the information without me giving him the answer even though I do know it.

This kind of questioning takes a lot of practice and I would suggest you role-play with friends and family before actually using it on your team.  In essence, you presume that they have done the correct task, even though you know they have not, in order to guide them to do it on their own. As the team becomes more self-sufficient, your time to do the other tasks will increase.

Sudhanshu Mishra – Vice President, Business Development, HealthFore Technologies
Sudhanshu has over 22 years of experience in management in the healthcare technology industry.

This is, in essence, a time management problem. My advice is to make a list of goals in order of priority and then break them down into monthly/weekly goals. Plan your time accordingly to reach the weekly goal(s) for each week. Just make sure to set aside some time for self-development and to mentor your team each week. Also, keep some free time on your calendar everyday. With a team to support and a manager of your own, there will always be last minute tasks and priorities thrust at you. Once the priorities for a week are clearly articulated, block time for them and make it sacrosanct. That way, your priorities will not fall off the radar.

Ray Osofsky – Teacher, Fusion Academy
Ray has over 41 years of experience in education management.

A manager’s work includes taking care of his/her team and cannot be relegated to lower priority.  You may need to put in a few extra hours in order to get it all done, but that is the role that you assumed as a manager.  My view of being a manager/leader came to be one of viewing leadership as a way of being able to accomplish with a team much more than I could ever do myself.  You must find time to do both.  Ultimately, as you grow into more senior management/leadership roles, your individual contributions will become less and less.

Jim Lally – Leadership Coach, The Agile Leader Project
20 years of experience, Consulting in Management Consulting

I think this is something that all managers struggle with, and it takes a lot of courage to admit it. For me, the issue is less about balancing time and more about making the best use of time available. One of the things I coach managers on is finding ways to engage in effective delegation as a mechanism for both making better use of time and also engaging in team member development.  A lot of managers I’ve come across tend to think of delegation as a means of getting “stuff off their plate.” To a certain extent, it is.  More than that, however, delegation can be an incredibly effective way of engaging team members and helping them grow.

An exercise that I often take managers through is to map out their primary tasks and responsibilities for the coming week and categorize each as one of the following: “things only I can do,” “things I can do but others can help with,” “things others can do but I should help with,” and “things that others can and should do.” Within the context of this list, I then ask managers to look at everything that is not categorized as “things only I can do” and look at those as both delegation and developmental opportunities.  From there it then becomes a matter of figuring out to whom and to what degree the task is delegated.  Not everything will be able to be delegated and some of the things that are delegated may not have much, if any, developmental value, but I have never had a case where there was nothing of developmental worth that couldn’t be delegated.

The bottom line is that there is no silver bullet.  Frankly speaking, managers are asked to do more with less time.  In addition, the work of delegating in a developmental way is just that – work.  It takes time.  That said, when done well and consistently, over time managers will see both some relief from the time constraints they face and, more importantly in my book, a more highly developed and engaged team.

How do you balance individual tasks and employee development? What helped you learn effective delegation as a first-time manager? Share your experiences with our team in 140 characters or less, so we can tweet them to our audience!

Sarah Alexander

Sarah Alexander

Author & Contributor

About the Author

Sarah is an elite triathlete and independent strategy consultant with an MBA from Chicago Booth. She is passionate about empowering others to achieve excellence.

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