By Shawn Freeman, founder and CEO of TWT Group.
No matter the industry, we all want the same thing: happy customers. Building an audience's trust and loyalty starts with having a solid team that understands the vision of the company -- and can operate autonomously to work toward it.
When I first started, I tried to do everything myself. But as every entrepreneur knows, that strategy can't last long. I thought delegating tasks would solve the problem, but I soon discovered that even that wasn't enough. I needed to be able to trust the people around me, and they needed to trust me back.
When people feel empowered to make decisions and know their leader is behind them, they are more comfortable taking chances that sometimes pay off in big ways. Autonomous teams and supportive leadership have helped us create new systems, apps and processes, so it's no surprise that companies that give their employees more freedom outperform their competitors.
How to Build a Trustworthy Team
Of course, trust doesn't come without effort and investment. Here are six practices that helped me ensure I could trust my team to tackle the major tasks:
1. Hire for trust and culture fit over skills. People can learn skills, but someone who can't be trusted to work hard or make good decisions when the boss isn't around will always be a liability. Ask questions related to company vision and culture during the interview process to weed out candidates who don't fit the bill. Many of our team members work from home, so hiring people who don't need constant oversight is critical.
2. Define company values. Without concrete, vetted values, companies will struggle to make consistent decisions. I partnered with outside consultants to establish a relevant, actionable set of values that has helped us make decisions from the outset. Big or small, every decision should reflect the values of the company as a whole.
3. Set the precedent. Our company follows a strict "no babysitting" rule. We give clear direction when opening projects, provide feedback when requested, and check in when necessary, but we ensure everyone understands that hand-holding is not a long-term solution.
4. Establish regular check-in times. Designated times to catch up allow us to keep our eyes on projects without needing to be involved at every step. We use 15Five, weekly meetings and scheduled lunches to keep up, but the frequency varies depending on company needs. We also check in with clients quarterly to make sure we're meeting their needs and to keep important issues off the back burner.
5. Hire slowly; fire quickly. It's much more cost-effective to spend a long time finding a suitable candidate than it is to hire the best of an uninspiring applicant pool and hope for the best. Take the time to ensure the hire is right, and if things are going south, don't be afraid to cut ties and find someone better. The rest of the hardworking team will be grateful. Plus, if the problem employee stays on, the behaviors can spread and cause further harm.
6. Encourage team members to trust one another. From the president to the intern, everyone at a small company or startup has to trust everyone else. Create opportunities for people to mingle and get to know one another outside a work context -- and don't exclude leaders. Many companies claim they have independent teams, but true autonomy speaks for itself when the people are passionate about what they do and work hard because they own their work. When someone at our company wants to work from home or take a Wednesday off to go skiing, no one bats an eye because we've built a team that trusts one another to get the job done.
Increasing employee autonomy has boosted our customer loyalty and positively affected our bottom line. It takes time and deliberate effort to build a trustworthy team, but once the people are in place, the company can (almost) run itself.
Shawn Freeman the founder of Calgary-based TWT Group, helping businesses maximize their IT using intuitive technology to maximize their efficiency, increase revenue and protect valuable data.