Any experienced business owner knows the value of a strong team. You can only do it all yourself for so long. If you’re growing – and hopefully you are – you have to delegate the work before utterly losing your composure with considerable drama. So you’ve hired some people; they are doing some of the work – what now? In military-speak, a Captain needs a trusted and competent First Lieutenant, who in turn needs a Sergeant who knows how to take care of business and who relies on each Specialist performing his or her duty in an efficient manner. In sports jargon, the owner needs a reliable manager, who depends on a competent coach, who in turn relies upon a team captain with leadership qualities who knows how to make every specialized position sync together as a unified whole.
Perhaps I missed a few ranks and echelons, but you get the idea. The greatest generals, coaches, business founders, entrepreneurs, etc. didn’t just “have a good idea” – they knew how to build up a formidable team. Or if they didn’t know how to do it, they figured it out as they went along. In order to save you some of the heartache and hardship, I’ll let you in on a few team-building pointers based on personal experience:
1. Monitor & reward job performance.
People don’t like working in an atmosphere of insecurity. When an employee can be threatened or fired based on rumor or hearsay, they will not put their heart into what they’re doing; they feel as though their livelihood is being jeopardized – and they’re right. Walk into such a workplace and you may feel an atmosphere of uncertainty – that is because those working there are uncertain about they are doing. You will also get uncertain results. Unjustly reprimand, punish, or dismiss and the staff who are still left will be secretly looking for their next gig. And you will NOT build a good team.
The simple way to remedy this is to monitor job performance and only discipline or reward based on job performance.
If a salesman is selling and you count on him, let him know and give him a perk or bonus. The salesman who is not selling doesn’t get the perk or the bonus – simple. Discipline works when the rules are KNOWN and PUBLISHED. They must also be UNDERSTOOD. People work much better together when they know that if they do their job, they’ll be able to keep it. They feel secure. Just as a basketball or football game has rules, so too does a workplace. Make job performance, not who’s got the best haircut or the most Facebook friends, be the guiding principle and you’ll see the basic framework of an effective team start to take shape.
2. Keep communication clear and swift.
Make your instructions clear and concise. Put them in writing where possible. You should make up a manual for company policy as soon as possible. You should likewise keep the policy clear and concise. If it’s loaded with needless information, people will disregard it altogether. You should make a point to insist that people answer their emails and memos. Nothing jams up a business quite like unanswered communication. This applies most notably to inquiries about your services or products – if your business relies on leads and calls, this is your most important communication channel. But it also applies to all communication within and going out of the business.
You may not be a military outfit – far from it – but there is a cue you can take from the military and it’s called chain of command. Any business has some version of this no matter how rickety. Chain of command is very simple – you are responsible for the duties, performance, and people under your charge. Note that the purpose is not to create distance between people – it’s so that one has a smooth running operation where people know who is responsible for what.
3. Establish the right way to do things.
Say what you will about the “soulless corporation”. If large corporations can show us one thing, it’s that when you go to Walmart or McDonald’s, you know what you’re going to get. You may disagree with some of their tactics, but they’re nothing if not consistent. They have detailed instructions on what each person is supposed to do. This is the company policy I mentioned earlier.
Let’s assume you are smaller than those aforementioned behemoths. You can still help people out with their jobs and make sure they’re doing it right. Once you have established how something is done, you can put it in policy form and make sure it’s done that way.
Suppose you get leads that come in by phone. You want to make sure that the person taking these calls is very friendly and handles each call professionally, making appointments or filling orders or whatever it is your specific business does. Or let’s say you make “cups of coffee”. Each cup should be made in the prescribed way so that people can always expect a hot, tasty, and supremely excellent cup of java every single morning. A fundamental way to achieve this is through specialization – each person has a specialty.
You can welcome suggestions for improvement by all means – but if you’re the owner the final decision will have to be yours.
4. Promote teamwork & organize some activities outside of work.
Whether it’s a company baseball team, a Christmas party, or a hiking trip, taking your staff out of their normal context can help instill team spirit and a sense of camaraderie. In particular, activities which demonstrate the idea of co-reliance are particularly helpful. These can be team sports, although not every employee is physically up to this. You may opt instead for some simple drills. For example, passing an object or baton in a circle, timing how long it takes to make it all the way around the circle, and then doing it over and over to beat the previous time (without dropping the object or skipping anyone), is a simple yet effective way to demonstrate the concept of teamwork.
Are some of your employees out of shape and moving slowly? You can contact a local gym and offer a company discount. Many corporations have company retreats, but you don’t have to go that far. At the end of each month, if things are going well with measurable growth, you can take everyone out. People get more motivated when there is a tangible reward – beyond a paycheck – at the end of their hard work. Even a pat on the back is recognition.
5. Instill personal pride.
If someone does not possess a sense of personal pride, no amount of rules or incentives will make them do a good job. Unfortunately, some people are severely lacking in this department – thus you wouldn’t hire in the first place or may have to let go – but even someone without a sense of pride can change. You can sit people down and help point them in the right direction. Believe me, as someone who has worked over 15 years in drug rehabilitation, people CAN change. You’ll be the one to judge the rate of change against your company priorities. But most people on your team will have a genuine interest in doing a good job.
The ideal state of affairs is that people do a good job because they WANT to – not because someone TOLD them to. How you present your vision is important. You may have to get creative: “To make a more beautiful Detroit by repairing and restoring houses”, “To dominate the coffee market in the State of Illinois”, “To provide effective marketing and help businesses thrive thereby sparking the economy” – such statements of vision can help your staff rally around a uniform and driving purpose. One thing however: It can’t be hot air – you’ve got to mean it!
The above five points – all used together – should help you pull your team together into a cohesive whole. Keeping an eye for job performance, using said performance as your guide for promotion, reward, discipline, or dismissal; ensuring communication flows swiftly and easily into, throughout, and out of your business; establishing exact and consistent policies and procedures to be done by specialists; promoting teamwork through various programs; instilling a sense of personal pride and purpose – all these added up will help you immensely if you apply yourself diligently and intelligently. Sound like hard work? It most certainly is – but it is also very rewarding. Good luck!