‘Team Leaders are the most important people in contact centres’ is commonly heard in conversations with senior contact centre managers. The interesting thing, however, is that very few contact centres are good at developing and growing their team leaders.
Training budgets have been easy targets to cut during the economic downturn. Research by the Chartered Institute of Management in the UK shows that many team leaders receive little or no training prior to their appointment. The level of training they receive is not improved when they are in the role.
The impact of poorly trained and developed team leaders in contact centres can be extensive. The same research suggests that ineffective team leaders can have a detrimental impact on overall contact centre performance, as well as agent morale, absence and attrition rates.
Senior contact centre managers, therefore, need to ensure they regularly review their strategy towards team leader development.
The renowned writer, John Adair, in his book ‘How to grow leaders,’ outlines a framework against which such a review can be completed:
◾Leadership training: there is often no point in training newly appointed team leaders the technical knowledge needed in their roles. Generally, new team leaders have already acquired this or can easily learn what is required. What is recommended is a short, say, two-day course that covers the role of leadership, leadership styles, effective communication and performance management. This ensures that all new team leaders understand what is needed to lead within the organisation
◾Selection: it’s easier to select new leaders from agent positions. By doing this, senior managers will have had the opportunity to assess their performance and leadership potential. The difficulty is when team leaders are appointed from external candidates. Many companies use lists of leadership competencies to make assessments against. In practice, however, such competency lists are far too complicated and make the selection process all the more difficult
◾Line management mentors: new leaders in contact centres are presented with many difficult situations. It has been shown that they can benefit greatly from being allocated a mentor from within the line management structure. This gives the newly appointed team leader the opportunity to discuss situations they come across in the workplace and bounce ideas off a more experienced colleague
◾The chance to lead: once the team leader is undertaking the role to a satisfactory level, it is beneficial to set structured challenges to develop their leadership capability. Such challenges can include working on project teams, delivering communications or presentations or deputising for their immediate manager. There are very few companies who plan such activities in this manner
◾Leadership education: there will often be local universities that offer leadership training that will be suitable for team leaders. This approach has the added benefit of bringing the team leader into contact with external parties; such as leaders from other organisations or tutors from the university
◾Senior management backing: leadership development must have the backing of senior management. If senior management backing is not in place, any development programme becomes all the harder to deliver. Senior managers must set an example and show they support the leadership development programme when appropriate
◾Leadership development strategy: the organisation should have a clearly documented leadership strategy which encompasses the points above. The strategy should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure it meets the needs of the leadership roles in the organisation.
Those contact centres who spend time developing team leaders according to these principles will reap many benefits in terms of overall performance.