Leading teams in high-growth companies can be chaotic.
Despite your best efforts the structures and processes used for hiring, on-boarding, developing product and driving growth for a small founding team will begin to flex and break under the strain of an expanding one.
Accomplished people and culture specialists usually have an armoury of philosophies to deal with organisational growth. Do you have a people and culture specialist in your business?
If you’re ‘high growth’ you may not. If you do there’s a good chance that their day-to-day doesn’t allow them the time to properly design and build processes to cope with growing teams because they’re too busy hiring!
And even if they do have this time, it’s not their job to create the conditions for teams to do their life’s best work. That’s our job as leaders and here are three principles that will help.
1. Once purpose and strategy is established, leaders have one job – creating more leaders.
Inspiring others in order to achieve shared objectives – this is leadership. This is as much about coaching and developing people to help them move closer to their hopes and dreams as it is about empowering team members to make high-quality decisions to achieve company objectives.
I’ve seen and led teams of different sizes and one reality has always remained true; A CEO, like leaders at all levels of an organisation, can only be effective when they have a maximum of eight direct reports. It’s difficult to focus the attention to detail needed to properly coach and develop a larger team, just ask any leader.
There are few exceptions to this rule and as a company grows quickly, the true test of the CEO and her/his direct reports is their ability to create environments where team members at all levels can be effectively coached and developed. The achievement of their hopes and dreams and the companies shared objectives relies on it.
Consider speaking to a leadership development specialist like Melissa Rosenthal if coaching is relatively new to your company. It may prove a critical first step in helping you create more leaders. By the way, you can contact Melissa here.
2. Acknowledge the employee-employer relationship is based on a dishonest conversation. And change it.
This is probably the single greatest people and culture revelation in today’s networked age. Reid Hoffman presented this in The Alliance, a book he co-authored which also presents the idea of employees and employers entering into ‘tour of duty’ agreements as a means to reframe the working relationship.
The underlying philosophy of The Alliance is extremely powerful.
In addition to helping leaders move away from today’s archaic methods used to engage with employees, it sets the groundwork for developing incremental trust between employees and employers no matter what level they enter or grow within the company. This is the essential ingredient to turning employees and employers into allies where they can develop a relationship based on adding value to each other.
3. Create a great culture through routines and rituals
Children learn through routines and rituals. Why? Because they create certainty as they start to understand what life is all about.
Routines and rituals have identical effect in growing companies. In the face of competing opportunities, resource constraint and evolving information routines and rituals provide a basis for certainty, for things to look forward to.
The idea of introducing routines and rituals is very compelling. The simple truth however is that they’re easy to craft but require stubborn tenacity to maintain. After all, life is busy and there will always be an excuse to postpone a routine or ritual. The bottom line is that once agreed, they are non-negotiable and leading by example is the only way to ensure habit is formed around each one. I’ve had positive experience with these:
All Hands — Fortnightly on Fridays with all team members
All Hands meetings are nothing new. It’s the opportunity for all team members to receive an update from the CEO and key others on strategy and operations and for team members to ask questions on any topic.
This is also the ideal setting for leaders to celebrate wins and share their thinking on scenarios if the company is undergoing a change in operating environment like expanding into new markets, acquiring a company or being acquired, to name a few.
This is a relatively simple exercise when a company is small and all team members are co-located. As this changes to include different cities and time zones, consider recording each All Hands on a platform like Zoom and publish each session on your team’s internal SoundCloud account. This ensures team members on leave can catch up on each meeting when they’re back on deck.
Head Space — Monthly on a Friday for all team members
Having time to reflect and decompress is important to each of us. The idea behind Head Space is to provide each team member with time to do whatever they want that helps them reflect and decompress and the vision is that everyone takes advantage of this unique time each month.
This is not like Google’s 20% time. The idea is that every team member is paid to not work for the second half of one day each month.
Obviously there may be instances from time to time when this is interrupted due to mission critical activities. If that ever happens the intent is that the company does everything it can to make up that time in the future.
How can you tell if people are taking Head Space seriously? 1. The CEO takes Head Space time and 2. There is no activity on Slack.
Stand ups — Monday, Wednesday, Friday with direct team members
I really enjoy stand ups. They’re a potent way to update each team member on work in progress at the beginning of the day. Each person has 3–5 minutes to provide an update or let a team mate know that they might need their help during the day or week.
There are some teams that do this daily, as a matter of course or when in intensive pre-launch preparation of a new product. My preference is to have stand ups on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and to reserve Tuesday and Thursday to get shit done.
A closing note about “off-sites” or “retreats” where teams visit a different location to do team building activities. These are not routines or rituals. They are important and complementary but certainly no substitute for a routine or ritual. It’s a mistake to believe that big bang experiences will energise teams to ensure they stay on the same page and excited about the future beyond the short term.