How to foster the perfect team culture for your business.
This is a topic I really enjoy talking about, so lean in, because it taps into the sustainability of your business.
You can’t succeed as a business owner unless you have a team that is interested in sticking it out with you through the good and bad times. The only way you can achieve that is by building in the kind of team culture that gets them to love working for you.
Remember, if your team falls apart, its all your fault. You're the head, its all your responsibility. Take the steps to do it properly.
Don’t rush into it, plan it out. Decide your steps carefully and then move forward cautiously.
In this post, we’re going to discuss the steps you need to take to ensure that your team culture is on point and stays on point.
I use this example often, because it was the worst experience of my entrepreneurship journey, and we all learn best from our worst mistakes.
When I was 19, I started a company that blew up really quickly and soon I had 75 people on my team. I had no idea how to manage any kind of team, not to mention a team that huge.
I was used to working by myself. In businesses I had run before then, I didn’t have to communicate my plans to people, because I was always the only decision maker. I was used to working at my own pace, so I forgot that not everyone enjoys being sleep deprived (ps. I now have healthier habits).
I am a classic introvert, which means I don’t typically enjoy socialising, so I didn’t appreciate that my team would actually want to get to know me better. Needless to say, they got very frustrated with me, and the business, so when I abruptly called a quits, they were pissed, but not surprised at the way I handled it.
Till this day, that is the worst example of leadership I've ever displayed. I was a complete idiot.
Now, at 27, with many other experiences under my belt, I’m a much better team leader (though I have had my awful moments in-between). I say all of this to say, I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’ve done the research (MSc in Culture and Society) and I want to share the best tactics to build a supportive, collaborative and healthy team culture that will contribute to the success of your brand.
There are 3 culture keys you need to work on and maintain at all times.
The majority of people quit jobs because they don’t have a good working relationship with their manager.
The key to proper management is communication.
Your job is to foster good communication between you and your individual team members, and foster good communication between your team members as well.
The problem most entrepreneurs have when they begin bringing new team members on board, is that they expect those team members to be able to read their minds. No one is a mind reader.
They also expect that everything they say has been understood, despite the fact that they’re speaking in shorthand or jargon that's not entirely accessible to the people they’re speaking to.
Growing up, we were taught how to communicate WITH people. To have conversations, solidify the basis of an argument, build on the premise and so on. The problem is, we’re very rarely taught how to communicate TO people.
Its one of the things speech writers have to learn at first base.
When you’re in the boss’s seat, you’re no longer a part of the conversation, you’re a lecturer and your students get to ask you questions. Understanding that is key to knowing how to communicate tasks.
You need to be clear and effective in the way you say things. Don’t ever leave any room for misunderstanding, but then don’t use 50 words to say something that could be said in 10.
When it comes to facilitating communication between your team members, you set the tone. You decide what is valid and invalid communication.
Decide how you want your team to speak with each other and create processes that encourage that sort of communication.
For example, do you think face to face meetings are a priority between team members? Make that known. You could frame it like this - at this company, we have a hierarchy of communication techniques, face to face, then phone call, then email, then text. If you can’t get a face to face, down grade to a phone call. If you can’t get them on the phone, email them. If they don’t get back to you within an hour, text them.
It might sound really inflexible at first, but to ensure that your team actually knows what the parameters of your organisation are, you are going to have to give them the fundamentals of the way you operate, in terms of your business AND in terms of your company culture. By the way, every incoming employee (even if it is just the two of you in a company), should have a full induction day where you cover these things in detail and allow them to ask as many questions as they want. The better they understand the fundamentals, the more fun they’ll have working for you.
These next couple of culture keys are pretty straight forward. More than how you talk to each other, and relate with each other in a working environment, when it comes to social culture, you need to work on building in bonding moments.
Essentially, what you’re trying to do as a good leader, is get your team to like and respect you, but also like and respect each other. That’s when you get into great team culture territory.
The best way to achieve this is for you to create social opportunities, AKA mini team building sessions, without the organised activities. For example, every month, go out to lunch with your entire team, and once a quarter, invite the team over for dinner at your place.
What you’re trying to do is create a non-threatening atmosphere that is away from your business so that they can relate to each other, and to you as a human being instead of as a colleague or the holder of the keys.
As a team leader, and the spearhead of the team culture, you set the tone. You can do whatever you want, but do it regularly and make sure you don’t let it get too familiar. Work friends are not the same thing as best friends. Work friends build great businesses, best friends fight and screw up their work because they don’t want to talk to each other.
- Mental Health
The final culture key is about understanding that the job is part of their life, IT IS NOT their life.
This is usually a really difficult transition for entrepreneurs to make, especially when they go straight into hiring full time employees. You expect too much; you want them to have your passion, be in love with your vision and believe in your mission so much, that they'll act like you did when you were first starting out – your business was most likely your entire life. Don’t impose those expectations on other people.
You were unhealthy. If you truly want to build a healthy business, understand that the rot starts from the top.
Forming healthy work habits for myself, was one of the first keys I had to get to grips with on my journey to becoming a healthy employer. I have work hours, I have tasks, I note everything down.
I choose to be as productive as possible and as transparent as possible so that I can hand over anything I’m doing at any point in time to someone else. That’s how you build in the steps to scalability and sustainability. I'm building in all the processes necessary so that I can go on holiday, or go to a conference and know that I don't have to worry.
Mental health is really important in terms of overwork, but you also need to think hard about autonomy.
Not to get too dark, but people are more likely to get clinically depressed if they perceive that they have little control over their working life for an extended period of time.
Give the people control of their roles. Give them opportunities to grow in their role, and give them a clear route for promotional opportunities.
More than those things, autonomy is about giving them an opportunity to complain without fear of retribution.
My favourite model is called, “caring for 5”. The idea behind it is, at any one point in time, as a manager, you should be caring for a maximum of 5 people in your company. If you have a bigger company, adjust as needed so that you have enough managers to make it work.
As a manager in the model, you should be having a monthly one hour, one-on-one meeting with each of the people you’re caring for.
In those meetings, you're giving them an opportunity to complain about things. You’re giving them the opportunity to bring their ideas to you and ask for more opportunities to shine.
People want to be teacher’s pet. It’s the way we’re wired. So they need the direct attention of their manager to feel valued.
Besides listening and giving them opportunities to shine, as a manager, you’re also responsible for their actual health. Its your job to notice if they’re getting sick, if they’re taking their holidays and actually going on holiday.
You’re meant to encourage them to have a life outside of work.
I make a point of finding out what my team is into. What they’re personally passionate about outside of my company, because the closer you can tie in their personal passion with the work they do in your company, the happier they’re going to be.
You need to remember that just like you, when you had a job and were running your business on the side, they might be in the same position. Give them opportunities to align their event planning business, for example, with your business by putting them in charge of an events focused project when possible.
When all is said and done, most people don’t stay in a job for more than 5 years, especially when the job is in a startup.
If you do your job well as the founder, and you build a strong team culture, they’ll probably be inspired to go out and actually build that event planning business, and turn it into their real full-time gig. If you’ve done your job badly, they’ll hate you and complain to everyone about you forever, and they'll still leave and run their own business.
So when you think about how you want to build out your team culture, think about it like this; your employees are a walking billboard of your company in two ways.
First, they can be great at getting you new clients because together you have a much wider network. Second, they could be great at getting you new high calibre employees. If they like working for you, they’ll scout people in their network for you.
What do you want them to say about your company’s culture when they’re at the bar with their friends?
That’s your starting point.
Build a team culture framework that will help you get to grips with the culture you’re trying to create so that you can begin communicating it confidently to your employees, even the part-timers, because they have friends too.
That’s all folks.
Thanks for reading,
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