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We’re in it together: The future of team management

As a writer, I like to think that writing is a skill that will always be needed. Humans have written since we could scratch letters into stone tablets, which later evolved into hand-lettered calligraphy, setting type on a printing press, and pecking out letters on typewriters and computers. There’s both the skill of choosing the words and the art of putting them into a physical form. As technology has evolved, many writers have learned additional skills to help keep ourselves relevant; learning to code, for example. Still, written communication will never be dead. It seems like job security, but then along came natural language generation (NLG) technology.

Most NLG programs are not yet good enough to put writers out of work, but there may come a day when we’re not needed to report the news or write copy. The way the technology works now requires a lot of data to build a narrative and output prose that sounds natural to the ear. You have to have the data to get something workable out.

Shifts like this are occurring across industries—notably in retail and customer service, where processes are increasingly automated, made digital, or enhanced by a bot. Shifts in culture and technology are causing many of us to pause and consider what skill sets we’ll need to be marketable in the future. The World Economic Forum has a list to get us through the next few years, but what about beyond that? Moreover, how will managers need to adapt to manage the future workforce? Managers are often long-time employees that have cut their teeth in the workplace, but may not be able to rely on how things have always been done.

Managers are often long-time employees that have cut their teeth in the workplace, but may not be able to rely on how things have always been done.

Must-have management skills for the future

We’re already seeing the beginnings of some trends that will continue to affect the workplace. Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are making some jobs obsolete while adding new ones, working remotely or joining the gig economy is becoming more commonplace, and businesses are beginning to bend to demands for greater flexibility for employees. Managers may find themselves managing remote or globally distributed teams, weaving AI into existing processes, or fielding demands for longer maternity leaves or unlimited vacation policies, making case-by-case decisions around individual employee needs.

Looking ahead, here are some must-have management skills:

Tech-friendly—One of the most important skills managers of the future will need is an acceptance of AI and a mindset that embraces technology. Forward-thinking businesses are adopting AI in big and small ways, and it will become difficult to compete against companies that offer a better and more efficient customer experience.

Managers also must find the delicate balance between integrating AI and maintaining a human touch. AI, and bots or robots, can do a lot and will only get better, but humans won’t give up the desire to interact with other humans anytime soon.

Inclusive—Managers need to be wary of misstepping when handling sensitive ethical, cultural, racial, gender, and sexual orientation-based considerations. As companies globalize, managers will need to show a nuanced understanding of what affects the employees they manage and to balance that against the needs and values of the larger company.

Transparency is the key. Employees want to know where you stand, and to know that they can have a safe, open dialogue. Increasingly, employees want to work for diverse, ethical companies and consumers are getting smarter about judging whether a company aligns with their personal values.

Offering or attending anti-bias training, and fostering a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), are just two tools managers can use to ensure that each employee is treated fairly and with respect.

Emergent leadership—Leadership has always been an important quality to seek in managers, but the type of leadership needed is changing. Instead of egocentric leaders, we now need outcentric leaders—those that are focused on practicing emergent leadership within their team, working to solve problems and encourage original thinking at every level of the organization.

This is a quality that managers should start honing right now, and it’s one that Millennials will likely carry on as they become managers. Millennials, as many blogs and studies have noted, don’t like to be micromanaged and prefer equality and friendship over management.

We now need outcentric leaders focused on practicing emergent leadership, working to solve problems and encourage original thinking at every level of the organization.

Emotional intelligence—In the past, hiring teams focused on accolades or academic performance to help identify a person’s ability to succeed in a role. That’s changing. Shifts in the ways team are structured, combined with technological advances in the workplace, mean that managers (as well as employees) need emotional intelligence just as much, if not more than, they need book smarts.

This is especially true for managing the younger generations, as Millennials don’t tend to hide or suppress their emotions as much as their predecessors. We tend to bring our whole selves to work and openly express and share our emotions, even with colleagues and managers. Managers will need to lean on emotional intelligence to handle emotional situations in the workplace and to build and foster trust in their teams, as employees manage their own schedules and workload. Some employees may perform better outside of working hours while another thrives on routine and deadlines. Managers will need to flex to provide guidance and encouragement unique to each employee.

Curiosity factors in, too—those managers that continue learning and exploring what’s ahead will be better set up for success.

Are you up to the task?

Managing people has always been a difficult human challenge, but increasingly it involves a lot more than shepherding initiatives down from the top. The work has to get done, but it’s also about nurturing and developing—and retaining—talent, and adapting to a continuously changing landscape.

Technological shifts will require hiring for new skill sets, while cultural changes will require new coping mechanisms, ethical standards, and behavioral changes.

What skills do you think managers of the future will need? Tell us in the comments.