Communicate Expectations to Drive Team Performance
Small business owners and entrepreneurs wear many hats to get all the work done to run their businesses. As the business grows, others join the team in a variety of capacities and a core team develops. Each team member also wears several hats and they often cover for each other as workload increases and pushes time and capacity to the limits. Even with just three members in a core team, maintaining the alignment with your goals, policies and practices can be difficult.
Small business team members establish relationships that reflect the hectic, diverse and even overlapping nature of their roles. They learn a lot about their team mates and the work they do.
This helps them to fill in for each other as the workload increases or when critical issues take one player out of the office for even a few hours. This flexibility allows the business to function and keep growing until it can afford to bring in more resources to help carry the load.
Sometimes, these relationships become friendships, or involve spouses or other family members, or develop very strong bonds of loyalty to people who helped launch and develop the business over several years. Maintaining a friendly and congenial work atmosphere while keeping every team member aligned and focused on the same goals can be challenging. The familiarity of the members with each other and the owner can be an asset, but it can also lead to ambiguous communications that can easily be misunderstood, or ignored.
For example, asking someone if they would change the way they quote proposals to customers can sound like a request, rather than a specific direction or expectation. No matter how well you know that person, or how well you think they know you, this approach is ambiguous and leaves the door open for other options to be exercised. If you want to change behavior or assure that your team members achieve your desired outcomes, you must ensure that they understand and agree with your expectations.
This does not mean adopting a dictatorial style and ordering people around to make them do your bidding. That will only result in resentment as team members no longer feel empowered to get the job done in the way they know best. Maintaining a friendly communication style is important to maintaining a congenial and collaborative team. However, the specific expectations on behavior and goals must be communicated and agreed to by the team members in order to assure the performance you want.
If you ask someone if they would change their behavior for a specific reason, do not end the conversation when they nod their heads. Clarify the reason and ask them to restate what they understand you are asking them to do differently, and why. Then ask for their agreement that this is the way they will act going forward. Follow up that conversation with an email summarizing what the person has agreed to and give them the opportunity to agree or ask any clarifying questions. This will keep all team members focused on expected outcomes, goals and behaviors consistent with your business policies and values. The team will be stronger and so will the performance of your business.