One of the great joys I’ve had in my business career is getting to lead the small group of talented professionals that make up my current management team. I’ve done the major corporation, big budget, lots of resources thing before. It has its perks. Still, nothing is more rewarding than a close-knit group coming together to accomplish BIG things. And over the years, I’ve distilled a few small business management tips that, for me, have proven to be invaluable.
There are so many great things about working with a small team. Less bureaucracy and red tape, for one thing. Also, I like being able to connect with team members on a more personal level. However, don’t get fooled into thinking that leading a small team is any less challenging. In fact, some critical advice for business management is that your small team can, in many ways, be even more difficult to manage. Your skills as a leader and team builder are put to the ultimate test. You don’t have replaceable cogs dedicated to a single task. Each member is making key contributions across many facets of the business. Everyone is critical. So building a loyal, dedicated team is not just one of those touchy-feely corporate clichés, it’s a necessity.
Loyalty, Trust and Inspiration
I never preach to my team about loyalty. Yet, I have the most dedicated and motivated crew one could ever hope for. How did I get there? It wasn’t easy, but by implementing some business leadership tips I’ve picked up along the way, I’ve been able to foster this most elusive of traits to find in today’s business climate.
Why loyalty? Why is that so important? It goes back to what I said about the difference between managing big teams as opposed to small ones. Your team is going to be covering a lot of ground in terms of responsibility. You are not going to be able to just plug in new people like an assembly line. Nor is it always smooth sailing when you run a small business. You need a determined team, one that is ready to meet challenges and overcome obstacles with you.
It starts with the hiring process. Identifying others who share your vision is an important skill that you must develop. When you have hired the right people, you can cut them loose and let them be creative. When they have input, they know that their contribution is valued and appreciated. This builds trust, and trust is the first ingredient in building loyalty.
The second ingredient is to inspire. When you have a team that trusts you and is inspired by you, they will stand behind you through thick and thin. There are all kinds of great leadership development tips for inspiring your team that I’ve covered in other articles. But here is another quick one that I will share and you can easily implement it right now!
I actively stay abreast of the latest trends, technologies and developments within my industry. So whenever I get a chance, whether in the office or at lunch with team members, I always try to bring up something cool or interesting that’s on the horizon. I don’t just mention it, though. I speak animatedly, showing my passion and enthusiasm for the topic. Then—and this is the important part—I ask for their thoughts as well. Does that sound like something that is going to take off? Should we incorporate it? You will see their faces literally light up. Suddenly, idle chitchat blossoms into a productive conversation with everyone contributing, getting enthusiastic and becoming inspired. Give it a try and see the reaction.
Delegate Authority, Not Responsibility!
As a small business owner your delegation skills will be put to the test every day. Handing an employee the ball and letting him or her run with it is a must. But beware! Delegation can be a real morale crusher if done improperly. When I say delegate authority, not responsibility, I mean don’t create situations where team members receive blame for substandard work, yet they haven’t been given sufficient authority to carry that work out. If something comes back substandard, ask yourself first: Did I muddle the results by interfering? Did I clearly define the parameters? Did I move the goalposts mid-project? Sometimes, as managers, we do these things unintentionally and don’t recognize it until we step back and ask these questions.
Also, make sure you’ve delegated the right task to the right person. Usually the choice will be extremely obvious. However, when faced with a novel situation, think very carefully about the temperament and skills of everyone before handing out assignments. Once you’ve made the right decision, let your team do its jobs. Remember, you hired the right people, so trust them.
Keeping Conflict in Check
Okay, this can be one of the biggest challenges for working with a small team. Rivalries among team members can be nearly impossible to avoid. Over time, they just seem to materialize. On a small team, however, when conflict arises it gets magnified 10X and amplified beyond reasonable proportions because everyone is so tightly bound together.
Want a great tip for small business management that will save you tons of headaches? Make a “No Gossip” policy a core value of your business ethics. Everyone on my team is aware of my stance on this. I won’t listen to it, and strongly discourage it when I feel a conversation is veering in that direction. Condoning gossip or turning a deaf ear to it is allowing a toxic environment to persist. I know that gossiping is human nature, but I foster a culture where it is clearly defined as an undesirable practice in our business.
Also, don’t pit team members against each other. There is a business philosophy, and I have seen it put into practice earlier in my career, that competition amongst employees is the surest way to increase productivity. Maybe you can get away with this in a large corporate shark tank. But I’ll give you a hard won tip for small business management: You are sacrificing the overall cohesiveness of your team for some short-term productivity. In the long run, you’ll create an unproductive culture of mistrust and suspicion.
When a small team comes together, a tremendous sense that great things are possible begins to grow in your business. But creating this team identity doesn’t just happen. It takes a ton of work and purposeful action on your part as a manager. It will be well worth it, though, when you see your team carrying your business to new heights.