How To Drive Big Results with a Lean Team

Workplaces, like people, come in all shapes and sizes, and quality seems to trump quantity every time. When starting a business, you obviously want to keep overhead costs as low as possible, but how do you grow and expand your clientele with only a few employees?

It’s a lot like the “what came first: chicken or the egg?” debate. Regardless of when you decide you’re ready to add to your roster, there are many ways to optimize the efficiency, satisfaction and success of your current small team to still produce big results.

After three years growing a digital creative studio, Craft & Root has learned many lessons along the way.

Here’s a few pieces of advice on how to build strong, even if lean, team:

Hire for Culture
When you’re starting from scratch, there’s a lot you have the power to define. You start with your own story and then you get to shape the company culture that you and your employees will stand for. While resumes offer a great starting point to showcase the experience of your prospective employees, they have a big disadvantage – namely, they lack personality.

It’s very important to focus on how a person will fit into your business’ culture and ensure that their mentality is on the same page with your company’s core beliefs. While an interview is a solid place to start, it’s also important to let your interviewees know that the hiring process is a two-way street where you both want to feel comfortable with the work, environment, and expectations.

By relieving the pressure from the formality of typical interview questions, you can take the time to actually get to know someone beyond the bullet points on their resume.

Delegate, Delegate, and Don’t Be Afraid to Delegate
The old adage “teamwork makes the dream work” may sound corny, but people don’t work in isolation. You have to be okay with assigning tasks to others and letting employees know that swim lanes do not exist. Sometimes, work becomes a big ocean and you all have to paddle together to stay afloat.

In that instance, it will be necessary to delegate tasks, especially when you’re the CEO, because you have to focus on the big picture while the details are managed. Delegation does not come easily to all people, but if there’s one thing that has made it easier for our founders, it’s been being completely transparent and understanding. By remaining approachable throughout the whole process of delegation, you let your team know that you’re there for assistance if need be, and no one will be judged if they need to ask for help from any team member.

Jack of All Trades
In support of delegation, it’s vital to train your team to be jack-of-all-trades from the get go. By being able to play a role in various aspects of your business, a single employee’s output is magnified and translates into having to hire less people from the get-go.

As time goes on, specialization will naturally occur and people will fall into the parts of the business that suit them the best, but when employees understand at least a small amount of each part of the business, they are more collaborative, which is especially important in creative industries.

Build a Brand, Encourage a Mindset
Building a brand means more than selling a product or service. Brands are like people – they have stories, they stand for causes, and they function best with a shared mindset.

Employees are the engines of your company, and by encouraging a problem-solving mindset with a growth mentality, you’ll be producing empowered employees who feel more fulfilled, are less likely to turnover, and better able to grow the business.

How do you do that?

From the outset, you make sure employees understand that problems will arise; nothing in life is perfect. But, it’s how you deal with the problem that will separate your business from the competition. When a problem arises, train your employees to know what steps to take, and if they don’t know the exact steps, to only introduce the problem when they have a potential solution to present.

When employees adopt this mindset and know that they have the power to solve problematic situations, your business gets better.

Reward Creativity
People like to feel needed and valued. However, many managers have reported that they feel like providing performance feedback is one of the hardest aspects of their jobs. Differences in perspectives, culture, work styles and more can make feedback conversations uncomfortable.

However, if you teach your company and its managers to accept failures, these conversations may become easier. This is doable by letting employees and managers know that mistakes won’t result in a blame game, but rather can be viewed as a learning exercise.

There are not many people who intentionally set out with the intention to produce poor work, but if you establish a culture that understands there is no reward without risk, creativity is more likely to flourish.

At the same time, small wins should be celebrated like big wins. In a growing business, it’s hard to see far ahead, but when you look back, you will recognize that multiple small steps weave the way to greater growth and big changes.

The Whole is Greater than the Sum of the Its Parts
Scaling a business isn’t a one-size fit all approach. It is an inevitable part of running a business, but until it’s time to add more employees, you can create a culture and promote a mindset to maximize your small team’s output by adopting any or all of these philosophies.