Giving instructions to your team: best practice to get the job done

Giving instructions to your team should be simple, right? Just tell them what to do, make sure they’re clear, send them on their way.

It might look something like this:

Malik, I need a detailed presentation on our key competitors. It’s for my meeting with the board next week, please get it to me by Friday so I can look at it before the meeting.

That might work, but it also misses an opportunity. Taking this quick-fire approach increases the potential for rework, stress and extra effort later.

Giving instructions should be an opportunity to engage your team and to make sure tasks are completed efficiently.

Giving Instructions: Best Practice

Giving instructions involves 5 steps. There’s no particular order to the steps, you can mix and match as seems appropriate, but all 5 steps are required:

What needs to be done

This is usually the starting point: provide an outline of what needs to be done and by when. This what most people know as giving instructions, but there’s more to it.

The business benefit

Explaining the business benefit, briefly, provides context. It helps the person understand why the work is being done. And as we know from Simon Sinek, why is a powerful motivator.

The personal benefit

But don’t stop at the business benefit. Give a little thought to the personal benefit, help the person understand how the work is going to benefit them too. It will help them find purpose in the work.

The process

Don’t just specify the ‘delivery date’. Give the person clarity regarding the process you’re expecting, leading up to that date. This give them confidence that they’re meeting your expectations, not just in terms of the deliverable, but also including the ways of working together. If the instructions you’re giving are for a larger project, consider running a premortem too, it’s a great way to secure success before you start work.

What success looks like

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, tell them what success will look like. This is so obvious, but so often forgotten. Not just ‘give me a detailed presentation’, that’s describing the presentation. Help them understand the impact that you want the work to have. Give them clear criteria for success.

An example of giving instructions

Take a little time to prepare for giving instructions, quickly think through each of these points (it shouldn’t take more than a moment). You’ll engage your team member more effectively and the task will get done efficiently and effectively.

Here’s an example of those 5 steps, put together in the same order you can see above. As you read it, look out for each step:

Malik, I need a detailed presentation on our key competitors.

It’s for my meeting with the board next week, they’re looking at acquisitions as a potential source of business growth.

I can bring you into the meeting to answer any questions, so it’s a great opportunity for you to build your reputation.

Give it some thought and come back to me tomorrow with a draft outline of the report, I want an update each day to make sure we’re on track.

We need to develop a clear and relevant approach to segmenting the competitors, that’s what the board will value most.

That might seem a long-winded approach to giving instructions, but if you read it aloud, you’ll see it’s approximately 30 seconds. Thirty seconds!

One last benefit

Thinking through these 5 steps helps you too.

For example, clarifying the process not only helps the person doing the work, it gives you the level of oversight that is appropriate to your needs. And defining success is a quick exercise that helps you clarify in your own mind how you’re going to evaluate the outcomes.

All this, for just a few extra seconds thinking though the 5 steps of giving instructions.

Giving Instructions: In Summary

Don’t just tell your team member what to do. Take a few extra moments, in your 1-1 meetings and team meetings, and explain:

  • What needs to be done
  • The business benefit
  • The personal benefit
  • The process you want them to follow
  • What success looks like

It only takes a few seconds and has a powerful impact on your team member and the task too!