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How architects can boost their team’s productivity by altering leadership style

From avoiding overtime to decreasing stress, managers could consider a hands-on, personal-output approach to help.

27 July 2023

Can architecture ever make its perceived culture of long hours and overtime a thing of the past? Or how about deceasing stress within a team and the workplace? These are important, difficult questions that the profession has always grappled with.

Carlo Magni, a design team leader at EPR Architects, thinks boosting practice productivity through better team management can be part of the answer, as he will be explaining in greater detail at RIBA's forthcoming Future Leaders 2023 conference.

The key figures in a practice who can boost productivity are team leaders, Carlo says, but all too often when they are first given that role they will have had no specific training in people management, or in leadership.

“When the time comes to manage people as a team leader it is just assumed that people will just sort it out somehow,” he suggests.

Team leaders are expected to know what to do despite no specific training in people management, Carlo argues. (Photo: Pexels)

Why getting to know your team is paramount

The Leading Teams module of this year’s Future Leaders conference will encourage new leaders to develop an effective and empathetic leadership style that should begin with a thorough evaluation of team members.

Getting to know and understand the team members you are working with, and recognising that people tend to work in different ways, is key to getting the team to deliver what you are asking of them, Carlo says. The better your understanding of how people work, the better your idea will be of what they can deliver.

The leader should also be making sure that everyone properly understands what they are doing, and what outputs and goals they are working towards. Explaining the ‘why’ in workflows is more effective than just handing out tasks, he argues, because if people really understand the objectives team members are more likely to come up with their own solutions, their own suggestions, and perhaps a different way of doing something.

All of this adds up to the manager taking a step back from the traditional output-driven management approach for the team and adopting a more hands-on, personal-output approach. Carlo believes this has been happening for some time in offices where they are more attentive to staff wellbeing and neurodiversity. Team leaders are becoming more respectful of how different people will perform in their own ways.

What goes into the prioritising process?

The best way for individual team members to improve productivity is by effectively prioritising their own tasks. Everybody is bombarded by distractions and requests coming from different directions, and Carlo believes that if people understand the ‘why’ of the project and the direction of travel of their team, it will help to inform their own prioritising process.

The team leader can help here by convincing team members that identifying priorities to be worked through is an important decision-making exercise in its own right. How individuals do this will be down to them, but they should appreciate the value of being able to give their full, focused attention to their number one priority.

Inevitable workplace distractions mean that attention is the most precious workplace commodity, Carlo suggests.

What does not work is micromanagement at the personal level: “Micromanagement is frustrating for everyone; it becomes another distraction. We are in a creative industry and therefore you want everyone to contribute their best, you don’t want to dictate how each thing must be done.

“People must understand the ‘why’ and the ‘when’ of the things to be done, but the procedures they follow must be up to them.”

People must understand the ‘why’ and the ‘when’ of the things to be done, but the procedures they follow must be up to them, Carlo argues. (Photo: Pexels)

Why does training for mid-level managers get overlooked?

Training in architectural practices tends to be focused on the newest, junior staff members and the most senior management levels, he observes. This means that training for mid-level team leaders – the key figures for practice productivity – in their role as people managers tends to get overlooked.

Amid all the attention they need to give to design development, troubleshooting, report writing and achieving project milestones, newly-promoted team leaders themselves are likely to underestimate the time needed for people management.

“When you start managing others for the first time, it is easy to forget that time needs to be set aside simply for managing people: the briefings, the reviews, the support, the one-on-one conversations that help to build relationships,” Carlo says. “If you are managing a large team, it can be pretty much a full-time job.”

Future Leaders is a three-part program, consisting of two in-person conference events and a separate on-demand CPD course from industry experts, which is curated and recorded especially for Future Leaders 2023 delegates. The face-to-face conference will reinforce the key themes of the on-demand content and bring it to life with interactive sessions featuring live business actors, exercises, polls, and input from industry experts and thought leaders such as Carlo, hosted and led by Debra Stevens, Leadership Coach.

Book your ticket to Future Leaders 2023.

Thanks to Carlo Magni, Associate, EPR Architects.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.

RIBA Core Curriculum topic: Business, clients and services.

As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, professional features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD core curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as an RIBA Chartered Member.

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