Wow! You’ve finally done it. You’ve abandoned your old job and decided to put your skills to better use on your own terms. You’ve taken the plunge and started your own small business. Now you’re up and running and while the hours are long, and the days are often frantic, you sleep like a baby knowing that you’ve taken the first steps towards creating a successful business of your very own. Now, when your kids look up at you, they won’t see a bedraggled and frustrated employee stuck in the rat race. They’ll see a dynamic entrepreneur and role model. But while you should give yourself a big ol’ pat on the back for taking this crucial first step, it’s important to remember that you can’t expect to do everything by yourself.
No entrepreneur is an island. Sure, it’s their resolve and self determination that transforms a single idea or a spark of inspiration into a living, breathing, working, money making enterprise. Yes, it’s usually their vision that helps to determine their business’ values which then impact on everything from their branding to their daily operations and even the greeting with which frontline employees answer the phone. And, yes, they may even put their name and face front and center in their branding because they’re build up such a sense of trust among their customer base. Nonetheless, even the most gifted and successful entrepreneurs acknowledge that they have their limitations. Many an over zealous small business person has burned themselves out trying to be all things to all people and ended up micro managing their businesses into the ground (and enduring a whole host of stress related illnesses in the process). Here we’ll look at the importance of the team, and what you as their leader can do to ensure that they’re operating cohesively and at peak productivity.
Team work makes the dream work
Assembling the right team is absolutely essential to ongoing success even in the smallest of businesses. Firstly, the right team brings the skills, knowledge, and experience to the table to fill in any blind spots in your knowledge and contribute creative and practical ideas that you’d never even have considered which can have a phenomenal impact on your enterprise’s growth. Secondly, they help to lighten the load of your personal operational duties. It’s fairly typical for entrepreneurs (especially those in their early years) to devote themselves solely to the operational aspects of their business. They have a very specific idea of how they want their business to run, and being the proactive, hands-on types that they are, they just can’t help rolling up their sleeves and wading in. While this can aid the operation of their business with the entrepreneur modeling the correct protocols or behaviors for their employees, this is rarely the best or most productive ways to indoctrinate employees into the values of the business.
True success in small business comes when you invest in building and supporting the right team, and delegating and trusting them enough to nurture them as they help your business grow from strength to strength. But as any entrepreneur will tell you, managing a team is a very specific skill in itself. A team, after all, is the sum of many disparate parts. In order to be successful, it needs to encompass a comprehensive range of people with very different skill sets, attitudes, experiences, and personalities. Inevitably, this social chemistry sometimes creates friction. Sometimes the team is unable to work cohesively, or rally behind the standards and values you have established for your enterprise. As such, even veteran entrepreneurs can become frustrated by their team.
But building a cohesive team is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes place over time and with the constant care and attention of an attentive and diligent leader. If your team isn’t as tight or cohesive as you expect them to be, it’s up to you to be the glue that holds them together. How you do this is entirely up to you, but the following methods are proven to be effective…
Lead by example
One of the most obvious and potentially effective ways to marshall your team is through leading by example. When you exhibit the kinds of positive behaviors you want to see from your team, you set a precedent. Your every word and action says to them “this is how it’s done, and this is the standard that I expect”. When they see their leadership behaving in an exemplary fashion, they’re likely to mirror that behavior.
The trouble is that demonstrating these behaviors is often easier said than done, especially in the context of the myriad stressors you face every day as a small business owner. It’s not uncommon for the pressures of entrepreneurship to lead us to become short-tempered, indecisive and flaky. This can risk alienating your team. Thus, it’s extremely important that you allow yourself time to rest and center yourself so that you can be the beacon behind which your team rallies.
Always be training
You may have some less than fond memories of training activities under your previous employers. You may even have had experiences that border on being an episode of The Office. Thus, it’s tempting either to carry out all of your training in-house, or even on the fly. You don’t have positive experiences of training days and so don’t see the value in them for your employees.
That said, one of the steepest learning curves for new entrepreneurs is knowing when to outsource and when to keep it in-house. Outsourcing your training to an expert can make it more dynamic and meaningful for your team while also easing the pressure on you and allowing you to focus more on the strategic running of your business. Check out ej4 for some examples of bespoke video training courses which can be tailored to the individual needs of your business. Investing in training for your team not only ensures that your corporate ethos is effectively passed on to your employees but it also ensures that they feel valued and that you care about their ongoing professional development.
Team building exercises and retreats are another important forms of training. Getting your team together to collaborate and develop their creative problem-solving abilities outside of the stressful and challenging context of the work environment can go a long way in creating unity and cohesion among your team.
Remember the little things
Never underestimate the importance of little things in facilitating a sense of cohesion and friendship within the team. Even little things like bringing bagels in for breakfast for the team on a Friday morning, arranging social gatherings outside of work, and even doing something nice for every team member’s birthday can make a huge difference.
Roll up your sleeves and resolve those conflicts
Inevitably, when people are working together in a stressful and fast-paced working environment, tempers are going to wear thin and sparks are going to fly every now and then. Even the most harmonious and cohesive of teams can experience instances of conflict popping up here and there. How well and how quickly you work to resolve this conflict can make all the difference.
Nobody likes dealing with team members in a state of conflict, but only by addressing the conflict (and the reasons behind it) quickly and decisively can you prevent it from escalating and having a detrimental effect on your business, while making your workplace a less pleasant place to come to work every morning.
One of the biggest problems in creating a tight and cohesive team is the problem of employee turnover. To some extent, it’s inevitable that members of your team will pursue new opportunities or better pay outside of your organization if you’re unable or unwilling to provide it for them. As team members come and go it can be difficult to replicate the unique and finely honed dynamic between the “original lineup”. Thus, you must do everything in your power to ensure that invaluable team members stay with you.
If you show them that they are valued by investing in training and developing them, acknowledging and praising them for their efforts and accomplishments and giving them a paycheck that reflects their hard work, you’re more likely to retain their skills.
When a member of the team just has to go
While you must do everything you can to ensure that the right people stay with you, it’s also important to deal with the wrong kinds of people swiftly and decisively before they can toxify your whole operation. Every now and then, a team member reveals themselves to be a very different person to who we saw in the recruitment phase. While all great entrepreneurs invite challenge and counter-proposals, some team members may be outright insubordinate, dismissing your authority and openly undermining you in front of the rest of the team.
Of course, firing these people is a last resort. They may not be acting out of spite or malice but because they feel bored, understimulated or undervalued. Try and engage them in an open and honest conversation and give them a forum to air their grievances in a collaborative manner.
Calmly explain to them that their behavior has a toxic effect on the team dynamic and that you simply cannot afford to allow this to continue. If they still continue to behave in this toxic manner, they simply have to go.