12 Keys to Leading a Successful Operations Team


There’s more to leading a team than hiring the right people and getting out of their way. While securing the critical key skills from team members is an important part of strong team building, successful leaders know this is just the first step.


“Leaders have to play a far more hands-on role to make sure the group works well together and remains focused on the right priorities,” writes Adam Bryant, managing director of Merryck & Co., a senior leadership development and executive mentoring firm, for the New York Times. Boost Midwest understands the key elements to successfully leading an operations team and uses them to make sure your goals are met.


The 12 keys to leading a successful operations team are:

1. Define a clear vision. Before you can create a plan and build your team, it’s vital to see the big picture first. More general than goals, your vision begins before you start building your team and may extend past the actual completion of a project. It should include how you will lead your team, including communications, monitoring progress and any role changes that may occur. Remember to share your vision with your team, being clear about what they are doing and why, and how their roles will shape the team’s journey.


Allowing team members to brainstorm around your vision may bring in new ideas on efficiency and bring to light possible snafus. By inviting them to join in the visioning process, you are also investing them in the success of the operation and making clear that the team, as a whole is responsible for that success.


2. Determine priorities. Experts on operations leadership advise keeping team priorities to no more than three. This keeps the project from becoming weakened by an overly wide focus or competing priorities. This is the point where you ask: Is production efficiency more important than quality improvement? Is product sustainability as important as product improvement? Clearly defining the top priorities will keep team members more efficient and less apt to fall down the rabbit hole in relatively unimportant directions.


3. Set goals. Goals organize and direct our attention and make us regulate our efforts to match the goals set for us. Goals also increase persistence in, and encourage strategy and planning for, each piece of the operations process for which a team or team member is responsible.


Studies in goal setting have shown that assigning difficult goals results in higher performance than easy goals. And further, assigning specific goals results in higher performance than general goals, like “do your best.”


This critical operations step stems from the fact that goals are the main drivers of intensity and persistence of effort, both for the team leader and the team as a whole. This makes it even more important that your team accepts your vision at the earliest stage of your project.


4. Communicate effectively and often. Just as you want your team to really hear you, so do your team members want to hear from you. Communication updates should focus on the set priorities and goals in addition to address in any potential “trouble spots” down the line.


It’s important to keep in mind that effective communication allows for dialog. If you find yourself merely waiting for a team member to stop talking so you can say what’s on your mind, try this: Repeat back what the person just said, by starting out, “What I understand you’re saying is…” This forces you to really listen, and reinforces to your team that you truly do listen to and respect what they have to say. Here, patience and a non-patronizing tone are critical.


Finally, admit when you’re wrong. This helps show your team what is expected of them, promotes open communication and makes you more approachable. Perhaps most important, admitting when you’re wrong sets an example, so team members will be encouraged to admit any of their own errors before they become bigger problems.


5. Share progress with a team scoreboard. Many operations leaders use a team scoreboard to keep the team up to date on where the team is in real time. A team scoreboard lets team members visually monitor the current progress of the entire team as well as their own individual progress. It can also be used to organize team information regarding scheduling, training, problem solving, and communication.


A visible, accessible team scoreboards helps operation teams focus, stay committed, adjust in real time, collaborate on problem. With so many scoreboard options available, from low- to high-tech, consulting with Boost Midwest can help find the perfect scoreboard solution or create one to match your vision, operations and goals.


6. Promote action and learning. With the need for speed and agility in today’s business operations, maintaining an action-oriented team can be critical to your success. As action is often a direct result of new knowledge, fostering a culture of learning in your team is critical. Work to develop your team’s ability to study, analyze, develop, and utilize new strategies so they will be ready to address complex operational problems. This will build a team that can shed skills, perspectives and ideas that no longer apply and seek out ones that are relevant now. A continuous cycle of learning builds team confidence, compounding teams success.


7. Make time for employees. Experienced managers know that leadership is a “people” job above everything else. When team members needs to talk with you, for whatever reason, set aside time for them. Your investment of time and focus clearly shows their value to the team and to you. But, the fact is that you might not have the time to talk when a team member seeks you out. In these cases, let them know that their issues are important by scheduling time with them as soon as possible.


8. Recognize achievements. This may be one of the greatest motivational methods an operations leader can employ. People react favorably to positive reinforcement, so highlight the behavior you desire in your team when you see it and that behavior will be repeated. Most people want to do the right thing, so you will be more successful in leading your team if you focus on using positive reinforcement over tactics that use threats, shame or fear.


9. Don’t criticize or complain about people. Nothing destroys team motivation than a constant stream of criticism or complaints about its progress, efficiency or critical thinking or problem-solving abilities. When it’s time to address a mistake, balance it by including what they do well. Project a positive attitude by viewing mistakes as an opportunity for improvement.


10. Think about lasting solutions. A quick fix can also be a short-term fix. While many problems have a quick solution—and great leaders love to solve problems as they arise—it’s important to balance that against sustainability. Take some time to make sure you’re not overlooking a lasting solution that may not be as obvious and/or take longer to develop. When devising solutions, look for the cause of the problem instead of simply addressing the symptoms.


11. React with speed and effectiveness. How quickly you can identify and resolve an issue is usually critical to team success. Two key metrics to monitor are Mean Time to Identify (MTTI) and Mean Time to Resolution. Determining the impact of an issue on operations will also determine how quickly it needs to be resolved. Here, the value of knowing what’s going on throughout your operations system is is key to resolving issues in minutes rather than hours or days rather than weeks.


12. Proactively monitor. In order not to fall victim to “alert fatigue,” create easy-to-find-and-execute playbooks. Playbooks are a basic list of steps that tell a team should respond to an alert. The steps should be written in the simplest way possible so a lot of thought isn’t needed to execute it. Keep your playbook close to your alerts, even placing a direct link to the playbook on each alert.



Interested in learning more about our team or finding out how we can help your team succeed in your daily mission? Schedule a call with us today.


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