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TEAM BUILDING

Keep Your Team Together Through Tough Times

Every business has setbacks. These three steps can help you create an atmosphere of trust and collaboration to navigate past the rough patches.

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It's easy to keep your team together when business is booming and growth opportunities abound. However, things aren't always so rosy and, as the great poet Robert Frost noted, nothing gold can stay.

Growth at emerging businesses is particularly uneven, with two steps forward often leading to one step back. Occasionally, customers will be unhappy, opportunities will fall through the cracks and growth will give way to setbacks. At these times, morale can sink, confidence can wane, and a once-cohesive team can begin to break apart.

At Avondale, despite our strong growth and inclusion in the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies for the last two years, we've had challenges and have had to work hard to keep the team together during these rough patches. We haven't been perfect, but we've learned a few things along the way that are worth sharing.

1. Keep the curtain open.

Transparency is key, but partial transparency is a common mistake. Don't pull back the curtain only for what's convenient. Partial transparency creates confusion and mixed messages. Start with fully communicating the situation and give the team a chance to vent, ask questions, and fully understand the situation. This takes time--your team won't be comfortable after a single conversation. Encourage multiple discussions--in groups, in person, or on the phone. Rumors and innuendo are more damaging to business than almost any setback, so fight them with full honesty and transparency.

2. Embrace alternative approaches.

Most setbacks come with a silver lining: reduced opportunity cost, which is the cost of any activity measured in terms of the value of the next best alternative that is not chosen. Did you catch that? Setbacks yield reduced cost! When you don't have to pull resources away from revenue-generating activities, an investment in marketing, R&D, or new business models is much easier to justify. If a services firm loses a client, it's a lot easier to allocate resources toward developing new relationships or creating a new offering.

Think about the big picture of your business and re-evaluate where people may be able to create the most value with their time. Allow people to create and pursue new opportunities. This may mean a "re-org," but don't think of this as a formal change--think about facing a new reality and putting people in roles where they'll be able to succeed. Don't just look at "available" resources; start from a blank sheet of paper to put people in the right roles for the new reality.

3. Encourage team bonding.

In challenging times, many of us gravitate toward putting our heads down and getting to work. It's a natural reaction to work harder and close out the distractions of the day. It's also the wrong approach. During challenging times, keep your door open, interact more with your internal team and external stakeholders, and find excuses to bring the team together. Happy hours, coffee breaks, or even a well-placed group laugh with a YouTube video (here's a good one) afford people the chance to be optimistic, to build bonds within the team, and provide a natural opportunity to discuss problems and successes. Emphasize the long-term vision for your organization and the tangible steps that will get your team closer to making the vision a reality.

Challenges are part of any business, but they also present an opportunity to build trust with your team and prove that honesty is truly a core value. Show your employees you respect them enough to be frank about your challenges, and trust them enough to give them new opportunities to re-invent or reinvigorate the business. These steps will help keep your team together through tough times.

Please send us your thoughts at karlandbill@avondalestrategicpartners.com

Avondale's Bradley Hoos contributed to this article.

Last updated: Nov 27, 2012

KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.
@karlstark




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