Building a great small business team

OPINION: Building a great small business team is about more than just hiring the right people. It's about inspiring them with a vision, nurturing their talents as individuals, appreciating their dynamics as a team and making sure everyone understands what you need to achieve together.

Your role is to know when to lead, and when it's right to manage - there's a difference. Guiding them through the tricky terrain that often comes with a small group of people will help shape them into a winning team.

A business succeeds when employees invest in its success

For a business to succeed, your people need to have a purpose beyond making money - to feel valued and that they are part of a team.

The first step in doing that is including them in your vision for the future of the company. Talk about the culture you want to build and where you see the business in the short, medium and long term.

Ensure they have a clear idea of what their role is in the company, and help them to set some milestones in determining their success in that role. Setting the scene will help people establish their place in the future of the company, and ensure they know how they can contribute to the company's success.

Know your team, and recognise their strengths

Great businesses are built on the skills and experience of all of the individuals. Fostering a great team means developing a deep understanding of the array of talents and personalities they bring to the company, and how you can help them reach their potential.

  • Get them involved in the day-to-day running, and ensure they're engaged by giving them useful work from their first day. 
  • Mentoring and partnering them with someone more senior is critical. The more mentoring you do, using timelines and discussing goals to strive for, the faster your team will take shape. 
  • Great people are restless. Understand their career and life goals, keep them active and challenged, and offer them the support and tools they need to get there.
  • Offer counsel when things don't go so well, and acknowledge their success, celebrating every little victory along the way when they do.

The effort you put into gaining a deep understanding of your team will pay dividends, enabling them to channel their strengths in a way that benefits the business, and the goodwill generated will pay you back many times over.

Define roles clearly, understand team dynamics and be wary of problems

Inevitably, part of managing and leading a team of people involves dealing with problems. In navigating this difficult terrain, it pays to be aware of the potential of certain negative team dynamics that may arise, and work to identify problems early.

  • An unwillingness to change should be considered a red flag and addressed quickly. Getting guest speakers in can be a great way to improve your team's skills, and can help avoid "groupthink", where people become subdued and unwilling to challenge the norm.
  • Complementary skills can often mean conflicting personalities. If people are unable to work together, consider using someone like a team coach who can provide feedback on the team dynamic.
  • People who like to excel will often feel frustrated if they have to spread their abilities too widely. Try to avoid spreading them across too many projects.
  • If there's a lack of consensus on goals, or on how to best complete a task, this can hit productivity and leave people frustrated. Be on the lookout for competing agendas and work with your team to work out a common approach. 
  • Top-down talk and micro-management, whether it's coming from you or a manager in your team, can really stifle your culture. It's often more effective to set a goal and let the team achieve it on their own.


Be a good leader

Finally, don't underestimate the value of your own social skills in building your team. Being positive, approachable, authoritative and responsible is key to being a good manager and leader. And while sometimes it can be tricky, don't lose your cool or lose control - it's the easiest way to lose the goodwill and respect of your team.

Lastly, don't be too hard on yourself. Running a small business can be incredibly demanding, but keep in mind that becoming a good leader is a learning process. Stay open to growing and improving, and your team and your business will reap the benefits. 

Victoria Crone is the managing director New Zealand of Xero