How to build a team

A family member recently started a new job and he was lamenting the fact that he is on a team of one. Even though he works for a very large corporation, he is working on an assignment by himself. And this assignment involves a topic with which he has little experience.

My immediate thought was that this is no different from the typical small business owner. Most of us likely started our business as a team of one, and most of us gave ourself an assignment with which we had little experience–operating a business. This certainly was the case in my situation.

When I started my business, I assumed that common sense and hard work would be sufficient to address the issues that would come up. While both are important, and certainly help, they simply are not sufficient. The result was a continual process of trial and error, which was often costly, stressful, and inefficient.

On occasion I would solicit input from family or friends regarding specific issues. While their advice was often very helpful, they didn’t understand enough about contracting to provide the kind of assistance I sometimes I needed. So I continued to plod along, making slow but gradual progress (with occasional pauses to pull out large tufts of hair).

The Internet certainly helped change this. With the advent of chatrooms and forums, I suddenly had access to hundreds of other people who had “been there, done that”. I was no longer dependent on trial and error.

Of course, the quality of the advice offered on the Internet varies considerably. As I identified those individuals or organizations that offered sound advice, I slowly began to include them on my “team”. In addition, I was better able to communicate my vision to my employees and subcontractors. This too improved the quality of me team.

Every small business should have a team, even if it is a one-man shop. Obviously a smaller business will have a smaller team, but getting quality advice and input is important no matter the size of a company. Even a one-man shop will have need for occasional advice concerning legal, accounting, marketing, or other issues. Having competent professionals available–professionals who have some understanding of contracting–can help avoid costly mistakes.

Your team can also consist of others in your industry or a similar industry. While a direct competitor will not be likely to share as much information, general discussions can be beneficial. If you are in a large market, there are likely many small businesses who are not direct competitors.

The culture of your small business

Company culture could be defined as the character of your business. It is the spirit that emanates in your words and actions. You, as the owner of your small business, define your company’s culture.

A company culture that stresses efficiency, customer satisfaction, and pride in the work performed will attract a certain kind of employee. A company culture that tolerates mediocrity, sloth, and apathy will attract another kind of employee.

You communicate your company culture in myriad ways, many of them subtle and implicit. Certainly, explicit statements regarding policies, procedures, and plans can communicate your company culture. But the real demonstration of that culture occurs in your actions.

For example, if you complain about customers to your employees, you send a certain message. If you are apathetic about customer complaints, you send a certain message. If you are late for appointments and your paperwork is messy, you send a certain message. If your words are different from your actions, your message is confusing and hypocritical. All of these things and more establish and communicate your company’s culture.

You begin communicating your company culture to employees from the very first contact. The wording of an employment ad, your manner of interviewing, and your hiring process all communicate your expectations and your willingness to hold individuals accountable.

If you wish to attract and retain competent employees then you must act with competence. If you want to attract motivated employees then you must create an atmosphere that encourages efficiency and pride. If you want to attract loyal employees, then you must act with loyalty and consistency.

In short, if you want a certain kind of employee, it is up to you to build the kind of business that will allow him to flourish. You must create the kind of business that will appeal to him. And this culture must permeate every aspect of your business, particularly your policies and procedures.

Enlisting employees in changing your small business

Employees are often unwilling to embrace new ideas. This presents a challenge to the owner who wishes to improve his small business. If employees will not make changes in their behavior, improvements are very difficult.

The key to overcoming fear of change is to create an incentive for employees. While money is not the only incentive, it is usually a powerful motivator. If the desired changes will result in increased profits, a bonus system to share those additional profits with employees can help them overcome their fears.

Enlisting employees in the entire process is perhaps the most effective measure that an owner can take. When an owner acts like a benevolent dictator and imposes change on the employees, they often resist. However, if the employees are involved in the process of identifying and planning the needed changes, they are much more likely to “buy in”.

Involving employees can begin by simply asking them what improvements they would like to see. This will do several things: you will be seen as more approachable and caring, employees will feel more appreciated, and you will create a more team like atmosphere.

Owners typically embrace change much more readily than employees. Consequently, the owner must address the concerns and fears of his employees. He must help them see the benefits of new ideas. If he can make them willing participants the changes will be far more effective.

At the same time, he must set realistic expectations regarding the speed and extent of change. In this regard, slow but steady change is ultimately more effective than rapid change that is quickly abandoned.

Employees are a part of your team. If you want them to perform at their best, help them help you. If you work together, not only on the floor or in the factory, but in the “board room” as well they will be much more willing to help you build the business you want to own.

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