There is a lot of talk out there about how to manage small teams, but what methods are really effective? Everyone wants to have a properly functioning workplace. And there will continue to be debate about what really works in terms of improving team performance.
This kind of debate is very healthy. There is no one right answer to effective management, and the more companies hack through different ideas, the better it will ultimately be for businesses in general. In any case, there are certain specific things that you can consider in working to make your team more effective. Here are a few ideas.
Reconsider your company hierarchy
These days, more and more companies are reconsidering the traditional business hierarchy as issues associated with these structures become more obvious. There is a purpose to top-down models, of course, and the fact that they have remained a standard for so long obviously attests to their success, to some extent. However, there are also shortcomings with these models, and recent shifts in supervisory roles indicate that more lateral work structures can sometimes be even more effective for business growth. Alternative staffing hierarchies can also make employees happier and more satisfied with their jobs. You might even consider implementing a useful automated system for certain aspects of your business so as to eliminate unnecessary tasks among your staff members and allow them to focus on more important things.
Let’s think for a moment about what this means. Traditional work structures have been designed in such a way that people in company structures involve a hierarchy of employees, starting with the receptionist, with each employee reporting to the one above him or her. Ultimately there is a leader at the top who governs the entire structure. The problem with this is that the people at the bottom often end up feeling alienated and mistreated. Experience is important, of course, but not having a voice can be disempowering to people.
Lateral work theories suggest that everyone should have a role in making company decisions. This makes everyone on the team feel that they have a stake in the business, and it also makes them motivated to want to work harder. This can be a challenge, of course, as sometimes different opinions can conflict with one another. But nonetheless, it is worth trying. Your whole staff might be happier and more effective if you give everyone a piece of the decision-making process.
Try team-building activities
There’s no better way to bring your team together than to try some team-building activities in and outside the office. Why look into some activities that will allow your team members to bond in a non-professional setting and really grow together? Traditional ideas like lunches and happy hours are good, of course, but you may find that people naturally break off into the same groups that they would in the office. If you really want to bring the whole team together, try thinking outside the box.
- Brainstorming – Brainstorming can be a great way to bring a large group of people together and temporarily eliminate the hierarchy that usually defines them. You can brainstorm about anything, work-related or not. If you want to really bring people together and have them forget about the office for a moment, why not brainstorm ideas for your company holiday party instead?
- Reconsider your company brand – This sounds like an inordinate task, but it doesn’t have to be. People often stay in companies out of habit, quietly grumbling about the company logo, the appearance of their website, or any other fundamental aspect of the business. Why not get the whole team together and reconsider what they think of the company brand? If you think some people might be afraid to express an opinion, parts of the process can be carried out anonymously. Remember, even junior staff members can have valuable insights about things like presentation, messaging, and approach.
- Company retreats – Think about creative ways to plan a company retreat. Collect ideas from staff members about where they might like to go, and activities they might like to do together. You’ll have to consider the budget, of course, but in the end it will be worth it. It could well be that some of your staff members don’t know each other that well, and taking the opportunity to get away together could really boost company morale. This will manifest itself in improved performance generally and greater satisfaction among your employees with their jobs in general.
- Group volunteer projects – Another thing that you can do with your staff that is semi-work related but also social is plan a volunteer activity together. Think about a cause that would be meaningful to your staff and help give them a sense of personal fulfillment. Perhaps you could throw out a few ideas and see what the most popular one is. Think about local charities that your staff members might be close to – it could involve anything from a disabled children’s center to an elderly home to an animal rescue mission. Giving your employees an opportunity to give back to the community without the pressure of meeting a profit goal or fulfilling a particular business requirement could be an excellent way to give them personal satisfaction and bring them all together.
Professional development courses
If you want your staff members to fully realize their potential, you might want to invest in professional development courses. This might not mean that you’ll be able to send your staff to graduate school to get their PhDs, but there is a wide range of courses available these days that help people gain skills to do their jobs better.
There are different types of professional development courses. They can be broken down into “soft” skills and “hard” skills. Some of the soft skills you could look into include:
- Leadership skills – this is particularly important for managers. People might move into managerial roles because they have been in a company for a certain period of time. However, this doesn’t mean that they really know what it means to lead. Leadership positions require specific skills related to interpersonal communication, decision-making, and other attributes that many people don’t have naturally.
- Time management skills – A good course in time management could benefit many people. It is all too common that people are very talented in one or more particular areas, but they don’t know how to distribute their time effectively. A course in time management will help your staff members lay out carefully all of the things they need to accomplish on a daily, weekly etc basis and stick to it.
- Stress management skills – It could be that one or more of your staff members is highly skilled in every aspect of their job, but they have difficulties coping with deadlines, the pressure of finishing tasks, etc. There are courses out there that can help people manage stress and learn to handle their positions in a more confident and relaxed manner.
- Presentation skills – It happens far too often that brainy people put together great ideas and then flop when trying to present them to a group. Although this often boils down to simple self-confidence, learning a step-by-step method of giving presentations can be enormously useful in helping people overcome awkwardness when presenting to groups.
In addition, there are also “hard” skills courses out there that can be very useful for your staff members. Some of these include the following:
- Project management – There are many different project management courses out there. Some are basic and short-term, and others are more extensive, like the PMP certification that some companies are now requiring for their managers. It could be worth your while to think about this, even for employees who have been with you for some time.
- Web design – Particularly if you are a small company, you might not be able to hire and maintain an outside company for your website. Why not invest in having one or more staff members trained in web design so that they can both build and hold up your company site? This way, you will eliminate the need for paying an outside company, and you will put the power of communicating with your target audience in the hands of people inside of your group, where it belongs.
- Social media – Many people claim to know about social media, but how many people really know how to use it effectively for professional purposes? This could involve not only the use of Instagram, but also potentially creating a company YouTube channel and several other media for company marketing purposes.
- Software skills – There are many different software skills that could be beneficial to your staff members. They could learn about databases that can help you more efficiently manage your company activities, CRM systems to organize your clients, and many other things depending on your business type and needs.
Fortunately, skills development courses are available in many different forms these days. If you feel it is worthwhile to physically send one or more employees to an in-person course, this is often possible if you live in a professionally vibrant community. If you do not feel that you have the time or resources for this, there are also a huge number of courses available online. Many of them are also accredited by top universities and institutions. And the other good thing about these courses is that they have grown in popularity to the extent that many of them are now extremely cheap (sometimes even free if you choose to audit!), so you may well be able to do this at a very low cost.
Things to think twice about
As much as considering new ideas can be beneficial for your group, there are also certain things that you should distinctly be wary of. Think twice about some of the things that companies usually do to manage their teams:
● Weekly meetings
This often-ridiculed and stereotypically dreaded part of the week is generally looked at wearily by employees for a reason. Typically, weekly (or whatever frequency they might have) meetings are an exercise in futility, leaving attendees bored and frustrated, and often resentful of managers for having wasted their time.
This is not to suggest that meetings should be done away with altogether. On the contrary, they can be very effective in building your company workflow. However, there are several things that should be kept in mind when planning meetings that will help you avoid the typical dread on the part of your staff members:
- Don’t condescend. Even if some of your staff members are in the first position of their careers, they aren’t dumb. Think about the things that you’re presenting and whether or not they are really things that people need to hear. Put yourself in your staff members’ shoes, and remember: you once held these roles yourself. How did you feel when people talked down to you? If you’re presenting information that people need to learn, think about the way they would like to be communicated with and make a concerted effort to adjust your method. It will make all the difference in the world to your staff.
- Think about the amount of time you’re utilizing. In the same way that your manner is important, so too is the amount of time you’re taking up. Look over the points that you want to make in advance of your meeting and think carefully about whether or not you’re repeating yourself.
- Give your team something to look forward to. If you have to have a meeting about boring topics like data management, and you probably will, think about ways that you can make it easier on your staff. Why not have the meeting on a Friday, then take your team out to happy hour afterwards?
● Performance reviews
This is another area where both supervisors and the supervised usually come out feeling guilty, unfulfilled, and generally inadequate. Why is this? First of all, most performance reviews tend to involve cookie-cutter forms that allow little leeway for real expression. Supervisors feel pressured to include both positive aspects of their team members’ performance and negative ones so as to appear balanced in the eyes of upper management. And these reviews generally turn into a patronizing regurgitation of things that the employees in question already know.
A more productive and less condescending way to guide your employees’ growth is simply to incorporate useful feedback in everyday operations. Remember, the workplace isn’t grade school, and adults do not need report cards to take home to their parents. This is particularly the case if you are a small business. Talk to your employees directly. Take them out to lunch. Make them feel human, rather than like some Pavlovian animal simply waiting for a treat for rolling over at the right time. These are the company’s future leaders, after all.
Be focused, but keep an open mind
None of these ideas are intended to suggest that you should lose focus, or that you should relinquish your role as a company leader. There will always be a need for leadership in business operations, and traditional work methods definitely have value to them.
But you should always keep an open mind, and continue reading up on what other companies are doing to grow. If you see the competition pulling ahead of you, or if you start losing employees to other companies, there will clearly be a reason for this. So keep your eyes open, and don’t be afraid to try some new ideas with your staff. They will thank you for your conscientiousness, and your business will ultimately grow as a result.