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Makeda Andrews: “Know your team”

Know your team — The role of a manager is essentially to help a group of people achieve outstanding outcomes. It’s impossible to do that with a group of people you do not know or understand. A successful coach is able to place their players in the right spots because he or she knows the strengths and […]

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Know your team — The role of a manager is essentially to help a group of people achieve outstanding outcomes. It’s impossible to do that with a group of people you do not know or understand. A successful coach is able to place their players in the right spots because he or she knows the strengths and weaknesses of each one. So the basis of being successful is knowing the players you are working with. It will help you to guide you and them. I found for myself that understanding my team members and what they enjoyed doing, what their career aspirations were allowed me to place them in positions where they could thrive and do their best work.


As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Makeda Andrews.

Makeda is a leadership and team-building coach who guides first-time managers to navigate the common challenges and pitfalls that can make or break the critical transition from individual contributor to team leader. She is an ardent believer that managers are the linchpin of the organization and have the power to change lives every day through their leadership and example.

With over 15 years of experience as a mentor, guide, manager and leadership coach, Makeda is now on a mission to help more new managers infuse their personal values, personality and vibe into their leadership style so that they can better lead their teams and produce outstanding results.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

Well, it kind of started for me when I was tossed into a role of management suddenly and unexpectedly.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was at a point in my life where I just needed a no- stress job that was still challenging but not at all stressful. So I actually found and took a job as a frontline worker in a call centre because it aligned with that low stress, and low responsibility I was looking for.

But then, 5–6 months into fully enjoying the low stress, the president of the company pulled me into his office and I came out of that office with a new title. To say I was confused and underprepared would be a huge understatement.

I joke with people all the time that when he offered me the position I was so confused that I turned around to see if he was talking to someone else. His office was one of those that had glass doors so I thought to myself for sure he’s talking to someone else that walked by. But I was wrong. He was actually talking to me.

That confusion turned into overwhelm, self-doubt, imposter syndrome and, of course, a host of mistakes that affected everyone around me, as well as, myself.

This has made me particularly sensitive to what other new managers are going through and the support they need to do their jobs successfully.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I once met a llama at a bar in Vegas! Okay, maybe that’s more weird than interesting.

Anyways, the company I was working for at the time had decided that they needed to get intentional about their culture as the current one they had needed improvement in order for them to reach their strategic goals.

Now because of the personal brand I had built around being an advocate of forming culture, the company sent me to Zappos Culture Camp! It was the best training I’ve ever attended — to this day.

I met incredible people, learned valuable best practices AND had drinks with Tony Hseih and his llama at a bar!

Sadly, Tony Hseih is not with us anymore, but what he built, what he stood for and his mission had an incredible impact on me. It’s part of the reason why I do what I do today.

Attending that training helped me to see that what I was creating with my own team of rock stars could be scaled at a greater level if I systematized it and taught it to others.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m not good at math. In fact I have a bad relationship with numbers. Always have. One day I was up at the white board showing the team something — working out some conversion numbers. And I totally butchered the math! Here I was, manager of this big smart team and couldn’t work out simple conversion numbers in front of everyone. They laughed, I laughed (but I was super embarrassed) and one of my team members that is exceptional at math, after picking herself up off the floor got up and said here — this is the number you are looking for.

At that moment, I realized two things:

I don’t have to be good at everything. That’s the beauty of reaching goals as a team. You don’t have to do it on your own. My job was just to be able to leverage the talents of others strategically so that as a team we can move further faster.

Secondly I learned who to lean on when I was having trouble working out data 😉

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to retain great talent today?

This is going to sound simple, but I 100% subscribe to treating others the way you want to be treated. I think sometimes we can get so caught up in the day-to-day that we forget we are working with human beings. And human beings have emotions, aspirations, baggage etc. I think we need to be aware of all of this and treat them with respect and with care — just like we would want to be treated. And don’t be confused, treating someone with care doesn’t mean not telling them the truth or taking their side when things go wrong. It means making sure you are helping them be successful — which sometimes means having a tough conversation. That’s OK, as long as you are doing so with respect and with dignity and remembering you are talking to a human being not a robot or a number.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

From what I’ve seen, I think communication, process and execution are super important for large teams to operate at their best. There are certainly other factors, but I do think these three things don’t get the press they deserve.

Thorough and intentional communication allows each team member to understand what’s expected of them, what success looks like and what to do if a project looks like it’s about to take a downward spiral.

A resilient process gives each team member a guide but it also leaves room for iteration so that things can get better and better as you move along.

Lastly, laser focus on proper execution brings life to a fantastic plan. It means nothing if you have great ideas and cannot execute.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)

1. Know your team

The role of a manager is essentially to help a group of people achieve outstanding outcomes. It’s impossible to do that with a group of people you do not know or understand. A successful coach is able to place their players in the right spots because he or she knows the strengths and weaknesses of each one. So the basis of being successful is knowing the players you are working with. It will help you to guide you and them. I found for myself that understanding my team members and what they enjoyed doing, what their career aspirations were allowed me to place them in positions where they could thrive and do their best work.

2. Build trust

I love the book The Five Dysfunctions of the Team by Patrick Lencioni for various reasons but mainly because he makes it so clear that nothing else works without trust. If I want to create and motivate a high-performing team — one that thrives on transparency and accountability — then the most important prerequisite is trust. It is the grease that keeps the motor going.

3. Create vision

Many of us take vision lightly or we think, well I’m just a frontline manager, is it necessary for me to have a vision? The answer is yes, because leadership demands vision!People need to know where they are going and why. In fact, one of the simplest ways to motivate your team is to share the vision and help them see where they fit into all of it! There was a case study done not too long ago that found that the #1 piece of information employees want from their manager is the vision.

Every single one of us wants to know what we do matters. Help your team members see how what they do matters by sharing the vision and helping them see how their inputs have an affect on that vision. I found that my team members worked harder and more enthusiastically when they saw they were working on something bigger than just “answering the phone”. As a team, we were going in a specific direction… or at least that was our intention.

4. Be intentional about your culture

I learned the hard way that culture is something that needs to be intentionally created. My first couple months being a manager were disastrous mainly because I was so focused on “process” (and also my own inabilities) that I ignored culture. This led to one of the WORST episodes the team and I ever had. I’ll never forget the day that one of my top performers walked into my office and said “Mak, I don’t feel like coming to work anymore.” WOW! Those words hit like a ton of bricks.

The environment I had created by not taking culture seriously almost lost me an incredible team member. And that’s the thing, top performers don’t want to be part of an environment that has C players. They just don’t. So if you want to have a successful team, focus on creating a culture that is for A players.

5. Have fun

I don’t think things need to be so serious all the time. I’ve worked with people who think work is serious time and laughter should be left for home time. I don’t agree with that at all. There is joy and laughter in a lot of things including work. I mean, if you enjoy what you do, and the people you work with, then it’s only normal. Something I’ve learned is that it’s super important to set aside time for fun otherwise it won’t happen. If you’re passionate about what you do, it’s easy for everything to be about the work. But sometimes people need fun time so they can recharge and come back even more energized about the work.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Be clear. Sounds so simple but many of us muck it up — I know I have MANY times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked away from a conversation proud of myself after having rehearsed, cited examples, checked off all the boxes to turn around and see the opposite of what I’ve asked. The truth is that, in each instance, as the manager I was not clear. I might have cited examples, but I didn’t explain the why, the impact and what success looks like. In my program I teach my students the concept of The target when setting expectations. Your team members should know exactly where on the target board they should be aiming for and what to do if they think they need adjustment before making their aim. Makes work a lot easier for everyone involved when it’s that specific.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Because of the good ripple effect that I know this will have, I would say I want more leaders to be awesomesauce managers. It’s my term for defining what it means to combine your strengths and your values into your leadership style. Don’t try and be someone else, and don’t try and follow someone else’s style as that is a losing strategy. Show up as you every single day, it’s okay that you aren’t the “perfect” leader — no one needs you to be. They need you to be you, they need you to have a vision and they need you to care about their success.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” Maya Angelou.

I always want to give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s who I am. But this has sadly led to me giving a lot of people that I shouldn’t have way too many chances. This has been detrimental to me in a lot of aspects of my life, and it has impacted the culture of the teams I’ve worked hard to build. But what I’ve come to learn about myself by reflecting on Maya Angelou’s words is that people know themselves better than we know them — and when they show us who they are the first time, we should choose to believe them. It will save us a lot of heartache and drama.

Thank you for these great insights!

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