“What’s all this foolishness about team building?”
“You mean to say, that after I hire people, and pay them good money, I have to build a team too?”
These questions came from a small business owner, “Ronald” who was invited to the luncheon by his friend.
I felt the annoyance in the room but I totally understood his questions…tone and all.
It’s pretty well established, that building a highly effective team, is the shortest route to business success.
And recently, it seems that this has been on the mind, of nearly every small business person I’ve been talking with.
But it’s hard to expect a stressed-out business owner, to have to focus on team building when he or she is trying to survive.
My success with team building
At the end of 2014, in a moment of complete insanity, I bought out a gym that had “failure” written all over it.
I was warned that the “team” was really just “a group of misfits.” Everybody claimed they were lazy, careless and unwilling to take the initiative on anything.
But I love a challenge. Especially a business challenge. So, for me, it was game on! I was going to transform these 10 employees into a high performing team.
Within 5 short months, I was close to having my desired team!
Of course, there were times when I was pulling out my hair and searching for my sanity. And I did lose a member. But I did it. I move the team from (fairly) good to great.
In 5 months, I had everybody focused on the common goal of turning around the fortunes of the business.
I increased productivity by 22% and cut cost in several areas by 11 – 35%. I also reduced overall monthly losses from 23% to 15%.
How did I do it?
I used a number of strategies, tools, techniques and years experience of working with small businesses to quickly build a highly effective team.
But let’s not pretend…I was also driven to protect my investment!
Anyhow, I want you to learn from my experience. I want you to be able to quickly build a highly effective team.
So, I am going to show you 7 ways YOU can become the boss of team building.
They are some of the most important tools in my team building toolbox, and I know they will work for you too.
1. Share relevant business information
One of the biggest mistakes that you make as a small business owner, is to withhold important information about the business from your employees. As a matter of fact, many of you believe it’s none of their business.
When I took over the gym, the first thing I did was to sit with the team, and share with them exactly where the business was. Then WE develop the mission, vision and the values for my version of the business.
The effect was transformational. For the first time in their 7 years, they were involved with a process. I also shared my passion for the fitness industry and my goals for the gym. They learnt what its future could look like and the role they were expected to play in making that happen.
I emphasised the values and principles that would guide the way we treat each other, our customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.
During our monthly team meetings, I shared key financial information like revenue growth or losses, how actual revenue compared with budgeted and how many new members we had acquired and how many we had lost.
Productivity increased, camaraderie and trust began to peep through the surface and gradually the conversations changed from “getting out of here” to “staying might be worth it after all”.
Does that mean you share everything? Of course not!
You do not share sensitive or personal information about people. Neither do you share information which you do not want your competition to get hold of.
What is one way you can quickly build a highly effective team? You share relevant business information with your team.
2. Become a dynamic, contingent leader
Some business people have an interpretation of leadership that leave me a bit baffled. Actually…a lot baffled.
You see leadership as this “thing” that you build and put aside. When you need to lead, you bring it out and push people into it and like magic, all your leadership issues are fixed.
That’s not how it works, though. Especially when your goal is to lead your team to a high level of performance.
For that you need to become a dynamic, contingent leader.
The circumstances and the context in which you lead are constantly changing. So too is the environment in which your business operates.
This means, that how you lead depends on what’s at state, the mix of your operational challenges, the type of people on your team, the changing business landscape and above all, the uniqueness of your own situation.
Whew! Makes your head spin, doesn’t it?
That’s why you have to become a dynamic, contingent leader, figuring out the various situations you face, and deciding the leadership approaches you must apply.
Do you want to lead your high performing team like a boss? Then try developing yourself into a dynamic, contingent leader. It’s well worth the investment.
3. Communicate effectively (sigh)
I’m sure you’ve heard about communicating effectively . As a matter of fact, so many times…you’ve stopped paying attention, right?
But do you know how to communicate, when you want to build a really great team? especially when you want to build it quickly?
First, you need to be clear about your purpose. When it comes to team building, it’s not just about communicating to pass on information.
You’re communicating to build positive relationships fast. You’re communicating to get from storming to performing in the shortest possible time. In a nutshell, you’re communicating to build your team.
Next, you have to consider how you will communicate. This is determined by the personalities and expectations of the people on your team.
I was reminded of this the hard way. I am usually very focused on the issue at hand. So, I am inclined, in a no-offence-meant way, to just say what I want done, in what I thought was a pleasant manner.
Then, a team member from the gym pulled me aside and warned me that I needed to be “less abrasive!” What?! I was embarrassed and properly chastened.
So, I had to remind myself to go the roundabout route. I had to remember to inquire about the health of significant family members. And knowing something about the latest local and international celebrity gossip didn’t hurt either.
The medium you use is important as well. You need to know when a simple conversation is enough, when an email would work and when it’s time for a quick meeting. You also need to know when to be strong and assertive.
Are you serious about the emotional and mental health of your team? Then communicating effectively must be a key tool in your communication toolbox.
4. Implement a system of shared leadership
So I asked you to become a dynamic, contingent leader at #2 and at #4 I’m asking you to implement a system of shared leadership.
What’s the deal? you are asking…
Shared leadership is to truly recognize the many different leadership styles that exist within your team, and leverage these to get things done, while developing and mentoring people.
For you to grow and scale rapidly while responding to today’s dynamic environment, your business needs leaders at all levels.
To really take advantage of your bigger, exciting opportunities and reduce the higher risks that these bring, you need leaders and leadership that may not fit the traditional leadership profile. A culture of shared leadership helps you to discover these leaders.
When I implemented shared leadership in the gym, I found those leaders and I was blown away by the results.
There was an increased sense of responsibility and commitment. Everyone was looking out for the business, the customer and each other. I felt as though I had cloned myself several times.
What does it look like and how does it work? Here are some examples.
In our business, everyone has the responsibility for solving problems in their operations area, using what we call the “safe zone”.
The safe zone is a place where there is no punishment for a bad decision, only guidance as to how to arrive at a better one, next time around.
This improved decision-making and encouraged problem-solving in a big way. It also increased individual confidence and initiative which in turn improved customer relations and relationships.
If a team member wanted my help with a problem, (s)he first had to have thought of a solution BEFORE they approach me. We reviewed that solution together and determined if it was the best one. If it was, I agreed that they would implement it. If I thought there was a better alternative, I offered it.
This also had the very desirable benefit of creating a culture where the team members, even the most reserved one, gave me so many wonderful ideas about how to fix problems that I was completely blown away!
Are you serious about getting the best from your team building? Then shared leadership is one of the fastest and most effective ways to do so.
5. Establish a culture of “calling out” and “shouting out”
One of the most difficult things I have to do when I am building teams, is to encourage them to call each other out (including me) for behaving in ways that do not fit in with the values and behaviours, we have set for ourselves.
My Gym Team was no different. It was difficult for them for two reasons. One, they felt as though they were “snitching” on each other and two, they were afraid of the potential conflict.
But we established some rules for calling out:
1. You had to do it in private
2. It had to have the specific goal of helping the member you were calling out
3. It had to benefit the business in some way
4. You were required to give the person some advice on how to improve or change what you’re calling him or her on.
And there was another side to the calling out process:
You were equally duty-bound to call out a colleague when they show initiative, did something to improve the team or the business or raised the bar on customer service. This side we lovingly call “giving a shout out”. I also made sure that business etiquette was a big part of this process.
When I implemented this in the gym, it resulted in significant growth in confidence and camaraderie among employees, as well as respect for each other. In addition, many little but important problems were solved quickly, easily and without conflict.
Does establishing a principled approach for how team members deal with each other matter to you? Then the practice of “calling out” and “shouting out” can be a great tool for you to use.
6. Support your team with efficient systems
By “system” I am talking about an established way of doing something that you can rinse and repeat every time it is needed. It could be made up of methods, procedures or a set of principles.
Why is this important?
When you combine efficient systems with a highly effective team, you create a powerful tool for racing towards your business goals and solutions.
Just like your leadership approaches, your system will reflect the unique needs of your business and the existing skills and attributes of your team.
Here are some questions to help you think about systems for you and your team:
1. Do you have a process for hiring and onboarding new employees?
2. Is there an Employee Manual which clearly spells out expected behaviour?
3. Are there documented procedures for all of your routine and repetitive tasks?
4. Do you have a system that allows team members to make decisions easily, quickly and expertly?
5. Do you have a communication system for the entire business?
6. If one of your team members were away unexpectedly for a week, could other team members do his/her job?
7. Do you take regular time off in your business, knowing that everything will run smoothly while you are away?
So, do you want some sound support for your team building? Try some simple systems that you can develop quickly and implement easily.
7. Let the team have fun on the job!
Every time I give this advice, someone looks at me like “Lorna, you can’t be serious!”
By “fun” I do not mean those structured once-a-year family day picnics and Christmas parties. I’m talking about making work fun and letting the team have fun every single day, as they work.
If your workplace environment is not relaxed, your team will be forever on edge. They will hate their jobs, resent you as their leader and work without enthusiasm. Worse of all, all this will land heavily in the lap of your customers.
On the other hand, when you let your team have fun, you are strategically breaking down barriers and allowing them to motivate themselves. You are also promoting the cooperative spirit that will distinguish your team as a well-oiled unit.
When I encouraged my gym team to have fun, we created an atmosphere of light-heartedness and friendliness in the way we related to each other and the way we served the members. This was the attitude that helped us to create fun for our members as well. The biggest outcome was that our smiles were genuine and our conversations were easy.
Do you really want high productivity and great customer service from your team? Then let them have fun on the job as one of your team building techniques.
Your next “team building” step
I know that team building isn’t easy.
But you’ve invested so much time, sweat and tears in your business, you cannot let poor people skills ruin your efforts.
Your customers expect great customer service and this can only come, when you fix your internal customer which is your team.
You can no longer ignore this problem because in this post, I have given you 7 ways to build a highly effective team.
You can select the ones that have the most meaning for you and implement them in random order.
I am cool with that.
Better still, you can think of all 7 of them as a system, made up of a series of steps, and work with your team to implement them in the order in which I wrote them.
If you do it this way, you create the added benefit in which #7 becomes a reward as well as a step.
So take action on building your team. Today.
If you feel you need outside help with your team building, get some. Your investment deserves no less!
To your highly effective team building…