You’ve been in business for a while. In the first few years, you did everything that was required to make your business run - because you had to, and the money wasn’t there to hire any help. But now, you’re starting to look outside of yourself.
You got into your business because you love what you do, and you create value for others while you do it, value that they recognize and for which they compensate you. Now that your business is starting to get its legs, you may be overwhelmed. You may be overwhelmed because the tasks you’re completing are outside of your wheelhouse, or perhaps - in an almost best case/worst case scenario - there is so much opportunity and you just can’t turn it away. Some business owners can actually become so ‘successful’ that they are struggling to deliver.
That’s where team comes in.
Think back to when you were “client naked” - you didn’t have operations to maintain, systems to implement, or projects to execute. Back then, you only had to put forward those things that made you unique, and this ultimately created the value your customers are now willing to purchase. Fast forward a few years to today, you’re working on parts of your business you hadn’t considered, or didn’t realize would be quite so monstrous. You have greater responsibilities, and more promises to execute and deliver on. Coming to this point in your business means, in some ways, a rebirth. It’s time to take stock of all the activities that are required to keep your business growing in the direction that you want, to identify the things you love doing, and to take those with you to the next version of you and your business.
Start with the Good Stuff
Think about all the work that you do in your business that makes you feel fantastic - the stuff that drives your creativity, and leaves you feeling energized. These are the activities that are staying with you. Then, consider all the things that sap your energy, and leave you feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Those are the activities that you’re leaving behind.
What Makes a Team?
Now that you have your list, you’re probably pretty excited to build your team. Before you start hiring, it’s important to remember that your goal is not to hire people who are just like you.
It’s a common mistake because you will often feel a connection with someone who is like you. You’ll want to hire someone you understand, who gets concepts the way you do, and who has a similar approach.
The problem with hiring yourself over and over again is that you’ll have a bunch of people who want to do, and are great at doing, all the things on that list of activities you want to keep. They’ll be terrible at all the stuff you wanted to pass on. You haven’t created a team - you’ve magnified the problem you’re trying to solve.
A Quick Exercise
Take out a pen and piece of paper. Transfer your pen to your non-dominant hand.
Write your name.
How does that look? Probably not that great.
How did it feel to write that way? How much concentration did writing your name require, especially compared to how easily you write your name with your dominant hand?
Imagine you had to write with that non-dominant hand for an entire day. Imagine how you’d feel at the end of that day. You’d probably be frustrated, and your ability to work on creative, intuitive tasks would be severely reduced.
Imagine now that you write all day with your dominant hand. Compare the speed, creativity, and energy against a day spent writing with your non-dominant hand.
It’s important to remember that not only do you want to reduce those non-dominant activities in your own life, but that you also want to make sure you’re not asking your team (existing or future) to do things that feel like writing with their non-dominant hand. Essentially, if you’re left-handed, you’ll want some right-handed people taking over those tasks that are frustrating and sap your creativity. Focus on getting everyone writing with their dominant hand, and watch the sparks fly.
Individual Assessment Test
Many organizations use assessment tests to help them find the right team members, and focus them on the kinds of work that will bring them, and the business, the greatest success.
There are really three kinds or styles of individual assessment tests. The most common are personality tests, which are more about what motivates the individual, their preferences, beliefs and attitudes. These are great for understanding yourself and the people you work with on a personal level, but they won’t tell you about how they work.
After that, there are cognitive tests that help identify someone’s skill set, processing speed, and working memory. Understanding your team member’s processing speed can help you communicate with them, and adjust your expectations around the time they take to understand and implement concepts. This could easily indicate whether the job you’ve created is one that fits this person. You may have created a position that requires rapid-fire decision making, but have a deliberate thinker in that role. It helps to be aware if you are asking a person to do something they’re simply not equipped to do in the best possible way.
The third type of assessment relates to a person’s conative strengths and are focussed on how a person instinctively prefers to approach problems. For example, you could be someone who, when learning to swim, just jumps right in, choosing to sink or swim - a common attribute among entrepreneurs and business owners. Alternatively, you could be someone who would read all the books ahead of time, and then dip your toe in - just to see how the water feels, and then perhaps practice a few strokes in the shallow end, before heading out into the deep end. Everyone is somewhere on the spectrum. Neither approach is right or wrong, as the outcome is still achieved. Understanding how each of your team members prefers to operate and having them understand your preferences will help you prepare them, and yourself, for delegating and communicating effectively.
Delegation, Responsibility & the Value Creation Pyramid
Your team, ideally, will be made up of individuals to whom you can delegate not just tasks, but responsibilities. You’ll likely start with giving them a roadmap - a process - for how you complete the activities that run your business successfully. That’s “command and control” delegation, which definitely works for a while, but ultimately, you want a team that takes responsibility.
There’s a significant difference between being accountable and being responsible. Accountability, to me, implies a person having to account for their actions. In certain team cultures that can be seen as finger-pointing, and the requirement that a team member defend him or herself against expectations. On our team, we like to say that we don’t have a “defence budget.” We don’t waste time and energy on finger-pointing when something (inevitably) does not turn out the way we would have liked. The team members and the business can’t move forward if everyone is focused on laying blame, and if everyone on the team has invested in their own “defence budget.” Instead, we focus on learning from the mistakes made, and deciding together what we can do differently in the future to maximize our own effectiveness.
Responsibility, in contrast to accountability, means that the team member is responsive in their particular area. They have the ability to react, make changes, and make decisions - within an agreed upon standard, of course - in order to create the successful outcome your entire team is driving towards. The team member has the autonomy and freedom to apply their creativity to ensure that success.
That ability to leap intuitively to the next best action creates incredible value, for the team members, and for the customers who ultimately experience and pay for that value. The gift of responsibility comes from you, the founder. If you’re busy holding on to every decision, people tend not to make any decisions - because they don’t want to be wrong. Of course, this means that sometimes, they will not make the same decision you would have and mistakes could be made. How you handle those mistakes, whether you choose to make it a learning moment, or a finger pointing moment, tells your team whether you’ve given them responsibility or accountability.
In a true team environment, everyone seeks to have responsibility, and has a hand in driving the creative process. Relationship excellence is the glue that brings individuals together and turns them into a collaborative team. Collaborative teams have the ability to be agile and adaptive, to create value individually, and spread it throughout your organization. Your team will add creativity to other team member’s jobs, especially when they know that the activity they’re adding is firmly in the wheelhouse of the person who has the skills and desire to carry it out.
We think of this as an endless Value Creation Pyramid. The base of that pyramid is readiness. You’ll have a documented process, or checklist, to guide your team. It doesn’t have to be the be-all-end-all (because that doesn’t leave room for creativity) but it is a tool that everyone uses, a common language for your team to interact around, and one to which they can add their insight and creativity. Once your team has created that, all it takes is a trigger around a customer, client, or interaction where you can set those processes in motion. If everyone is clear on roles, responsibilities, and is engaged in their thing… then your Value Creation Pyramid that starts with readiness can build upward, endlessly creating value at every level of your business.
Efficiency & Effectiveness
A lot of founders and entrepreneurs are highly focused on efficiencies: how to get more done in less time. Like Frederick Taylor, who innovated industrial engineering and manufacturing with scientific management (and has left a great deal of controversy in his wake), these business owners focus on reducing large, complex tasks into bite-sized pieces, and careful steps, creating standardization.
The reductionist Taylor approach definitely works - to a point. It creates efficiency, but does not necessarily create effectiveness - the responsiveness, agility, and creativity that will drive your company from here to there and truly set the entrepreneur free. This can be a difficult mental hurdle for a business looking to grow quickly. Efficiency is simply easier than effectiveness. It’s easier to measure, easier to think about, and easier to implement.
Effectiveness requires ongoing work, increasing innovation, and…communication. Communication is the lubricant of a well-oiled team and yet, communication itself can seem inefficient. Meetings, phone calls, conversations - people, we have work to do! A Taylor-like leader may tell team members to simply, “Do your job, and the rest will work itself out.”
Those interactions, which can seem time-wasting at first, allow your team members to build trust - with you and each other - to learn, to grow, and to take responsibility in the environment you create and support.
Your business grows as a direct byproduct of the team members you’ve invested in. Taking the time to talk to people about their work, and their ideas, or investing in their skill sets and new capabilities, or even taking a day or so away for team building exercises can just feel inefficient. That’s because, in the short term, it is inefficient. There are money-making activities you could be doing right now. But over the longer term, these activities are investments that build a dynamic, growth-oriented team that is focused on taking responsibility, and growing your business into one that is innovative, creative, dynamic, and agile.
The key is making that investment in your team. The world is changing, more rapidly than ever before. Your customers, your industry, your country, and the entire globe, will be throwing new and different things at you and your team every single day. You want your business to be adaptable and engaged at every single level. You cannot be everywhere, in every single interaction, and there are some things you just can’t plan for. You need to create a strong team environment, one that empowers your team members to maximize their value.
The result is not only fantastic for internal value creation, but also for the value you create externally. Your customers can hear over the phone, see on your website, and experience in person, a business that provides value at every level. They can tell the difference between a team member who is happy and engaged, and one that is wary of making the wrong move. Guess which one they want to work with?
Fred is a veteran portfolio manager with more than 18 years at a leading Canadian financial institution. He’s a student of leadership, a certified Kolbe consultant, and former working cowboy.