Play to everyone’s strengths, by Georgia Lewis

The brutal truth is that nobody is excellent at everything. There are some things you do better than others, there are things you’re really good at, and there are some things you can do passably but they’ll never be your forte. Even the most competent person you know cannot do every task required by an organisation to world-class standards. This is why we have teams; different people bring different skills to the table.

I have worked in publishing for most of my career as a writer, reporter, editor, sub-editor and manager of other editorial teams. Along the way, I picked up a few new skills such as basic photo shoot styling, but I could never be a full-time stylist. I’ve never worked in advertising sales, but I know the importance of identifying leads for the sales team to chase. At the same time, it would be arrogant of me to offer sales technique training, just as I would not expect a sales executive to tell me how to write a headline. Then there are the incredible people who do jobs for which I have zero aptitude, such as IT helpdesk staff and accounts teams – and without these individuals, most organisations would grind to a halt.

Successful organisations not only hire the right people but also make sure their skills are properly deployed. When you’re put in charge of a team, the first few days can be daunting. You’ve inherited a group of people who all have their own strengths, weaknesses, experiences and idiosyncrasies. If you’re leading people who have been with the organisation for a long time and you’re effectively the new kid in town, restructuring attempts can be met with resistance. Overcoming the “but we’ve always done it this way” mentality can seem like a massive brick wall to climb over.

The best way to start this climb is to undertake a skills audit. Get to know your team individually. Find out what they’re good at. Encourage them to be honest about their weaknesses – and reassure them this is not about catching people out. It is about giving people responsibilities so they can shine and finding ways for everyone to improve.

You might find people are already properly deployed or you might rewrite entire job descriptions. This process identifies training needs and helps set clear career development goals – an audit can reveal team members who would like to improve skills, to take on more responsibility or to find new ways to make their role more interesting and rewarding. This is good for morale and staff retention.

At Indaba, our diverse, multinational team speaks multiple languages. Deploying people with the right linguistic skills to work closely with clients in key markets is an essential part of our business model – we know our international relationships are in good hands. My own language skills, apart from English, are limited to schoolgirl German and the ability to decipher menus in French, Spanish and Italian, so I am incredibly grateful for the skills of my multilingual colleagues.

During the first 2020 lockdown, before I was working at indaba, I was a managing editor and valuable members of my team were furloughed, so others had to pick up the slack, myself included. Before the pandemic, I could let other team members post news stories on websites while I focused on other tasks. As a result, I hadn’t posted anything online for months, but I had to get back into this side of the business and lead by example. I undertook refresher training so I could pitch in and was so glad team members with great web skills went through it with me as if I were the newbie.

As we seek to emerge stronger from the pandemic, a team where everyone is valued and supported and can use their skills to the best advantage for the organisation – and nobody is suffering the often-destructive physical and mental effects of overwork – is the best asset a manager can have.