Cultivate culture in a small team setting

Working in small teams is increasingly common

At Amazon, Jeff Bezos is known for a ‘Two Pizza’ philosophy. This breaks down to: if a team cannot be fed by two pizzas, that team is too large. Outsize appetites aside, this is an idea that has legs. Businesses adopting agile methodology, working in remotely distributed teams or simply trying to increase efficiency will recognise the benefits of organising into smaller working teams.

What does this mean for team management?

The culture of any organisation is dictated by its people. In a smaller team, personalities are magnified. This means that the culture can shift depending on people’s moods, adaptability and willingness to get along with one another.

Managing different personalities to deliver great work and a positive culture is one of the most impactful ways you can cultivate a culture where people love to come to work. All it requires is a little structure, robust boundaries and identifying what motivates people (and making whatever ‘that’ is your number one priority).

You can’t be the perfect leader; but you can be consistent.

As a manager, setting the tone and creating a culture of trust is paramount. Being consistent with your leadership style is one of the most effective ways to achieve this..

Why? Because consistency creates a culture of trust. When you act in a consistent way, people are more likely to trust you because they know what to expect.

Studies have found employees would rather have a consistently bad boss than one that is inconsistently bad. This highlights how much consistency in a workplace (or lack thereof) impacts the culture of the wider team.

For example, if you consistently give your team constructive feedback (rather than abstract praise), they will, over time, improve in their performance (and confidence). If you consistently take their queries seriously, and them help problem solve when they ask you to, they will feel supported at work and be more likely to come to you during times of need.

Breeding a culture of trust also aids challenging conversations. Should you need to have a challenging conversation with a member of your team, they will more likely be in a position to take on your feedback and respond in a constructive way. If you have been consistent and reliable throughout your working relationship, they already view you as someone they trust, paving the way for a mutually respectful conversation.

Managing a small team gives you freedom to create your own culture around your own working style. View this as an opportunity to work collaboratively with your team to create a culture in which everyone can feel valued and validated.

Create a package others can’t

People are motivated to do a good job when they feel valued and their goals are clear.

When you’re hiring people, you’re always up against competitors looking to offer employees more cash, bigger benefits, freebies and bonuses. But studies tell us cash is just one part of the equation. People don’t stay in an organisation solely because of money. They stay because they feel valued, and can see further career opportunities.

So what can you offer that other workplaces can’t?

Your management style can become a powerful draw. The trick is to consider and reward both what your team members are good at and what they enjoy.

For example, if they display an appetite for promotion, why not kill two birds with one stone and train them in the basics of social media marketing. This gives them a professional development opportunity while supporting the needs of the wider business.

If they work well autonomously and with little supervision, perhaps reward this by asking whether they’d like to design their own working hours. If they enjoy bringing in new business leads, why not incentivise them by offering a commission from the work they bring in.

When to empower vs when to step in

Taking the time to understand what motivates your team, what they need to do their job and knowing when to step in to help them is one of the biggest challenges in business. (You’re pretty much a pretty super human if you can get it all right, all the time).

Your people aren’t always going to be expert communicators. Like any human (and like you), they can let their emotions get the better of them, and when frustrated, can say things they don’t mean in the heat of the moment. We’re all human, after all.

And little frustrations or outbursts can have a big impact on your other team members, especially if you’re a small team working in an open plan office.

Asking a few empathetic questions can instantly undo any frustration or tense feelings in the team. By letting them know you’ve picked up on their behaviour caring way, you can remind your team you’re here to help them fix whatever challenge they’re facing. Even if it’s simply lending a caring ear.

Try these examples to start the conversation:

‘That doesn’t sound like your usual approach. Has something changed lately’?
‘You don’t seem quite like yourself. What can I do to help?’
‘Sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate right now. Can talk about your workload when you’ve got a moment? I’m sure we can figure out how to lighten the load.’

The culture of your business comes down to the behaviour you accept. If you take the time to understand your team and make them the number one priority, your business will thrive.

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