Your goal might be to make your company a worldwide operation. But even some of the biggest companies started small, in living rooms and coffee shops across the country. Before you can scale, you need to master the art of making a lean team run like you're way bigger than you are.
And even if you don't have global ambitions, every small business--emphasis on the small--should know how to maximize its workforce. The truth is that when you work with a lean team, there's always more work to be done than people to do it. Here's how to get the most of every member of a small team, and make each workday more efficient.
Work With a Shared Focus
You might vaguely know the idea of working in a "sprint." You'll generally hear this term around engineering and product teams. It essentially means working together toward accomplishing certain, prioritized tasks in a fixed window. There are lots of reasons that tech teams are so reliant on Agile project management (a system of collaborating across teams for an end result) and Scrum implementation (the framework for managing the process), but chief among them? Efficiency. There's always so much to do, and getting everyone on the same page is the only way to make sure they're maximizing their resources.
Even if you don't have a single engineer on your team (or, more likely, if you have literally a single engineer on your team), you can take a lot of inspiration from the idea behind these project management frameworks. Set milestones for your company, and then identify smaller, shared goals to work toward along the way.
Then, make sure you communicate your goals in public ways. Reeling in the entire company's focus keeps distractions to a minimum, and prevents your limited resources from spending their time going off course. And always celebrate when you hit your goals--keeping team members incentivized is key.
Create a Meetings-Free Day
An increasing number of companies are blocking entire days on their calendar as off-limits to meetings. If your small team is suffering from meeting fatigue, give it a try.
A day of no meetings isn't just about getting time to work on your to-do lists. Getting the opportunity to work for an entire day undisturbed is excellent, yes. But make this a day where team members are openly encouraged to take a one-hour or a couple of half-hour breaks from their desk when they feel themselves fading. This'll allow them to really understand when they work best, and encourage them to use their time more efficiently.
After a while, as more meetings get jammed into just four days, your team can also start figuring out which meetings really are necessary, too.
Identify Tasks You Can Automate
With a small team, you need to make sure your limited resources are using their time--and skills--on the most highly specialized and impactful tasks. That means helping your business provide the best products or services, reach the right customers, and grow. That doesn't mean performing rote tasks over and over again like sending email reminders, sending paperwork for signatures, ordering supplies, etc.
Ask everyone on your staff to take an inventory of the tasks they do at least once a week every week. Then, evaluate if there's software or a startup that'll help you automate them or streamline your workflow. Look into setting up auto-delivery for items you frequently purchase, or find the best small business HR software to help with staff paperwork.
You might have to pay some money up front, sure. But the money you'll end up making back by allowing your employees do meaningful work? That's (practically) priceless.
Subsidize Opportunities for Education
Ask any member of a small team to tell you what they do, and there's no chance they'll name just one job.
Even though you hired someone for one job, they've likely picked up responsibilities along the way, rising to the occasion and learning by doing. And that's great--you can be confident you have an outstanding team member who will grow with your company.
But informal training is no match for true education. If an employee shows potential for growing into a larger role, or expresses an interest in sharpening or expanding their skillset, encourage it. Consider working with them to find a class, program, or other educational opportunity and subsidize the training. An investment in your employee is an investment in what your small team can accomplish.
Encourage Flexibility to Build Trust
Perhaps more than anything else, the wheels will fall off your small team's proverbial bus if you don't secure trust. In order for your team to want to spend their time doing their best work for you, they have to want to work for you. The foundation of that rapport is mutual trust.
As a leader, you might feel like the only way to ensure that your team is working to its potential is to be able to see it with your own eyes. It's a sensible instinct; after all, if even one person isn't putting in effort, it can throw off the entire operation.
But by encouraging flexibility, whether that's a more lax dress code, a make-your-own-hours policy, to the ability to telecommute, your team will get the signal that you trust them to get their work done. Some people don't work best from an office five days a week; some are most effective after midnight. Respecting your team's individuality lays the foundation of a positive company culture (and might even increase your profitability and productivity).
In many ways, a small company is better than a large one. Without the bureaucracy of a large corporation, employees can feel empowered to take ownership of their work product, build integral relationships across teams and work together for an ultimate goal. But when success is driven by every single member of a team, it's essential to keep them productive, motivated, and efficient.