Back to basics

What is added value?

Inspired by the Value Proposition Canvas [1] any  “client” – in this case employee – has a number of tasks that he fulfils while on the job.

Adding value equals the support and service a team leader can provide in dealing with the gains and pains related to these tasks.

Functional: the tasks he has been hired for: accounting, managing a project, writing code, sales or teaching.

Social: what an employee does to look good, to gain power or status. To be successful in  how he wants to be perceived by others, as a competent professional.

Emotional: what an employee does (or needs) to feel good at work. To support his well-being.

Now that it has become more difficult to focus on and to control the functional tasks of an employee, what does  a team leader need to reimagine his role and support his team on the social and emotional side? And therefore add value to the team from a distance.

4 elements to consider when reimagining the team leader’s role.

1.      How to energize people

As people work together-apart, paying attention to the individual becomes more important. Who is more outspoken? Who is quiet? Who is proactive? Reactive?

Most studies on the topic of motivation have proven that extrinsic motivators  like money and rewards, are likely to miss the target when it comes to energizing people. Intrinsic motivators on the other hand, motivate people to show the better version of themselves.

How well do you know your people? What is it that gives them the necessary and stimulating energy to deliver their best work?

The list of intrinsic desires below does not aspire to be complete; still it provides a good starting point to create a proactive approach to energizing people.

What do people desire?

  1. The need to feel competent: give people work that challenges their abilities but is still not too far out of their comfort zone so they feel competent
  2. The need to be autonomous: cherish and support people’s freedom of choice. Allow them to set their own rules (within agreed-to boundaries).
  3. The need for order: co-create structure with your team and agree on boundaries that people pledge to respect.
  4. The need for honour: through co-creating of the above mentioned rules, people tend to be more loyal to the group.
  5. The need to satisfy curiosity: make sure people have something new to investigate.
  6. The need to feel powerful: make sure people have influence on what is happening. Listen to their input and support them in turning some of those things into reality.
  7. The need to feel accepted: compliment people on their achievements during the team meeting; stimulate individual input and leave room for discussion.

How can you use this list?

Luckily we are all different and we do not value the same things as equally important. As you work from a distance, take the time to create an individual motivators list for every member of your team. What is most important to the individual employee (+1point)?  What is less important or demotivating (-1 point)? And is the balance sheet positive at the bottom line?

As a team leader you may hold yourself responsible for opening the discussion with each team member about keeping the balance sheet positive.

2.      How to empower your team

What about delegation?

While many managers might favour an all or nothing approach, there are many other levels of delegation that may support these challenging circumstances.

In his book “Management 3.0”[2], Jurgen Appelo describes 7 delegation categories that could come in handy: tell, sell, consult, agree, advise, inquire and delegate.

While you may tell the team that it needs to work from home, you may want to sell the fact that the team needs to meet online at least once a day. You ask for your team’s opinion – and they may not agree – but you decide. The meeting will take place. Every day.

You may want to agree on the timing of this meeting by finding common ground. If for one reason or another finding agreement appears to be impossible, you may want to step back one level to consult and based on the input, make the decision yourself.

You may advise some of your team members to regularly meet to discuss, but if they don’t, that is fine as well. It is up to them.

Or you leave it up to the team to decide, without giving advice, and inquire to be informed afterwards.

You delegate 100%. You leave the decision to your team.

3.      How to align constraints and set boundaries

One of the elements of the role of the manager is to set boundaries. Being apart leaves plenty of grey areas and pitfalls that need to be overcome. Proactive team members may have fallen into the trap of making decisions without actually having the authority to do so. All well intended but potentially leading to tons of frustration.

So up to the manager to manage the process (instead of the people) and to make sure rules are clear, boundaries are set, and information about the boundaries is available and accessible.


One approach could be to link the above chapter on delegation with the tasks and projects that need to be done.

For example:

An account manager needs to talk to his clients once every 2 weeks. You ask (inquire) to be informed.

A marketing trainee is organizing an online customer event. As it is the first time that he is in charge of such an extensive project, you may decide that he has to consult you.

Claire from Marketing is writing a press article about a new product to be released on the market. You and the other marketeers need to agree to the article prior to it being included in the press release package.

With your team you could create a list of repetitive and special tasks with the assigned authority level and owner. Put the info on a team’s dashboard online and adjust as conditions change and/or competence grows.

As Brené Brown says: “Clarity is kindness”.

4.      How to reimagine learning and how to develop competence:

We all hope that these restrictive work conditions will soon be history. It shouldn’t stop us from learning and becoming more competent at what we do. So make sure that learning and development isn’t put on the back burner but is given the appropriate level of focus. Have a plan.

Again, how?

  1. Hybrid or blended learning: work with an L&D specialist to develop a blended learning approach. A modular design of the learning journey allows the employee to learn at his own pace whenever it suits him best.
  2. Provide structure: agree on a deadline per module; combine with a – virtual – workshop to turn the learning into behaviour and develop skill.
  3. Competence equals knowledge, skill, attitude and talent. Don’t shy away from individual coaching to support the employee if needed. Coaching looks toward the future and supports the employee in reimagining his own role, to design and implement an action plan for his future.
  4. Last but not least: as a team leader, show exemplary behaviour. Share your learning experiences with your team and motivate them to do the same.


For more than a year now, working conditions have been challenging. Team leaders have found themselves confronted with questions and doubts relating to the validity of their role. How can they add value to their team from a distance? How can they reimagine their role?

While there are more elements to consider, this article offers 4 elements that are important to reimagining a value-adding role for team leaders. Creating and implementing an action plan to energize people, to empower teams, to align constraints and set boundaries and finally, to reimagine learning and developing competences are central in the new role that team leaders need to play.

[1] Value Proposition Design;

[2] Appelo, Jurgen Management 3.0. Leading agile developers, developing agile leaders. Addison Wesley 2011