Learn What They DoOne way to make your team better is by understanding what they do. When you're a first-line supervisor, that's pretty easy. You've done the job your team is doing. In fact, you're probably at least as good at it as any of them are. But the higher you go in management the less true that is. You have been promoted because of your skill as a manager not your ability to do a specific job. So by the time you become the CEO your ability to do, let alone understand, the jobs of all of your front-line employees is very limited.
MBWA, Management By Walking Around, is still a useful management tool. The more you get out of your office and observe the better. However, you may want to go one step further. Learn how to do the job of one of your employees to really understand what they do. The insights you gain will help you make the operation better. You'll also be able to share with that employee, and others in the same job, how what they do fits into the team effort. This can increase buy-in, motivation, and team building.
No, you don't have to go "undercover" to do this. (You also won't have TV cameras following you around to tip off everyone.) Just decide which job you want to learn and drill down through the management levels of your organization to find the right employee to train you. Remember you want the employee to show you, not the supervisor. Get buy-in from all of your managers on the way down.
How To LearnYou will learn by observing. You also will learn by asking questions. Your employees may be reluctant at first to honestly answer your questions, because they will try to determine what you really are asking, what your hidden agenda is. You will need to find a way to reassure them that when you ask questions you are only asking for answers, not trying to trick them.
And you will learn about their job by thinking it through. Make sure you understand what the employee is telling you. Ask questions if you don't. And think about what you have seen and been told. And then apply your broader knowledge of the company, its objectives, etc. and what you have learned previously in your career.
How to Apply What You've LearnedNow that you have been trained and have learned the employee’s job, you need to apply what you have learned to improve the company. Take a moment. Think about what you've learned. And discuss it with all of the managers between you and the employee who trained you to get their input. If you think changes need to be made in policies or procedures discuss them with the managers below you. You will want their input, but you will have to make the decisions about what changes to make and when and how to implement them.
Bottom LineDoing the job of one of your employees can be a good way for you to figure out ways to improve your organization. Carefully, but quickly, apply what you learned and make any related changes. And if you made any promises, or commitments, to the employee or any of the managers, be sure to keep them.
If the employees, including the managers, see you honestly and openly listening to their input and then acting on it as appropriate then they will get behind you. Your organization will function more smoothly, they will be more innovative, and your job will be easier.