Many companies, including some of the biggest tech titans like Facebook or Google, have humble beginnings. Things usually start with a tight-knit core group who share the same passion and drive. Then, after a few years of hard work, elbow grease and some good luck, that familial team can balloon into an army. And while this is usually the hallmark of success, it also presents a whole new set of challenges to those leading teams within these high-growth organizations.
As important as it is to grow fast, scaling well to meet the demands of that growth is just as important.
In fact, according to a study conducted by Clear Company, 97% of employees and executives believe that alignment within a team impacts the outcome of a task or project. So if you introduce new members at too fast a pace, you may be jeopardizing your projects by increasing the time it takes to align your team.
Understand who you really need to push the company toward your overarching objectives. The best place to start is with a Human Resources plan.
“When a company expands, its human resources capacity has to keep up,” says Mary Karamanos, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at BDC, the Business Development Bank of Canada. “An expansion plan can easily go off the rails if the right people aren't in the right positions, fully trained, and ready to assume their new responsibilities.”
What this plan looks like will vary based on your particular organization. But it should detail roles and responsibilities, a hiring schedule, an organizational chart, job descriptions, and information on how you plan to recruit, retain, and develop new employees.
How to Manage a Growing Team
With your company expanding at a rapid pace, you can no longer employ the same management tactics you used when your entire team could share a single pizza.
Here are five key tips to effectively lead and manage a growing team — without the stress, drama, or chaos.
1. Trust Your Leaders
“When we say that a leader is leading a ‘large team’ of 100 employees or more, that one leader actually leads a handful of subordinate leaders, who then lead other subordinate leaders,” explains Steve Nguyen, Ph.D., Leadership and Talent Consultant and the owner and creator of WorkplacePsychology.net.
However, success lies not in just identifying these people, but in giving them a sense of autonomy and empowering them to steer their own ships. You need to trust them to make decisions and direct their own reports without you breathing down their necks. So don't confuse micromanagement with hands-on leadership.
After all, according to a study by the Journal of Experimental Psychology, people perform at a significantly lower level when they feel like they’re being watched.
Watch Charles Hazlewood's 19-minute TED Talk below on conducting an orchestra and trusting your ensemble of musicians to do their job under your guidance:
2. Establish Clear Processes
As growth continues, you won't be able to work closely with every single member of your team. For this reason, it’s important that you have established and well-documented processes.
These are particularly important if you're hiring for roles that already exist, such as adding additional salespeople, since chances are good that there are certain ways specific tasks need to be done.
“You can think of a procedure as a road map where the trip details are highlighted in order to prevent a person from getting lost or ‘wandering’ off an acceptable path identified by the company’s management team,” says a blog post from Pacific Crest Group.
- Enlist team members already in this role to help document their procedures. You’ll involve them in the process, which will help ease any friction. Meanwhile you're noting processes that will allow work to proceed consistently across the board.
- Have systems set up for communication and overall work organization. A project management system (e.g. Wrike) will be helpful in collecting these processes in a centralized location, as well as streamlining team communication. In fact, 87% of high performing companies use some sort of project management software.
The basic point is this: the more proactive you can be in developing helpful systems, organized structures, and documented workflows, the easier it’ll be for your team to grow.
3. Don’t Hate Hierarchy
So many of us cringe at the word. It sounds rigid and formal. And, sure, maybe you really didn’t need a detailed org chart back when there were just a few people on the team. But now that things are expanding?
“You need to get over your natural abhorrence of hierarchy and start substituting some organizational and operating processes for your ability to know everyone on the team,” says George Bradt in an article for Forbes.
There are several reasons for this:
- First, it clarifies who employees report to and who has final say on decisions.
- It also details clear career advancement paths for employees who are eager to move up in your growing team.
You might think that a formal hierarchy will destroy employee morale. But a study conducted by the Stanford Graduate School of Business says that employees actually prefer hierarchal relationships to equal ones, as they’re easier to perceive and remember.
4. Remember to Reward
With a smaller team, it’s usually easier to recognize successes. This is yet another complication of an expanding team.
Recognition is not just a nice thing to do, it also has a significant impact on your employees. According to a Gallup poll, employees who don’t feel that they’re adequately recognized are twice as likely to say that they’ll quit their jobs within the next year.
Having a system in place for rewarding and applauding team members when they do great work is crucial. It could be something as simple as a friendly congratulatory email. Or, it could be an event that builds camaraderie, such as a monthly happy hour where big wins are announced and celebrated.
5. Nurture the Culture
Culture matters a lot. The reported turnover rate for companies with poor culture is 48%! For companies with great culture, it's a mere 14%.
Yet when you grow rapidly, culture can easily become watered down unless it is appropriately emphasized. Some strategies for this:
- Hire for culture. Hiring for culture fit is a big part of growing mindfully. Making hiring decisions while keeping your company's core values in mind will help you find talent that’s a more seamless fit, resulting in less friction and tension for all.
- Keep traditions. Your team’s existing (and beloved) traditions should be maintained, even if they have to be adjusted as the group expands. Whether it’s a weekly pizza party or the annual company Olympics, keeping some rituals intact will reinforce your company’s identity and establish camaraderie as you welcome new team members.
- Start mentoring. New hires can be matched up with a more seasoned employee (whether from within their department or outside it) who can show them the ropes and get them up to speed on the unwritten rules of your company culture.
A study of Sun Microsystems, conducted by research and advisory firm Gartner, looked specifically at the company’s mentoring program and found that retention rates were significantly higher—72% to be exact—for people who were mentored. For those who didn’t participate in the mentoring program, there was only a 49% retention rate, proving that this matchmaking really does make a significant difference.
Dealing With Change Resistance
Bringing new members on board can often shift the dynamic of the entire team, resulting in some understandable hesitation from core members.
“Any time change is required, expect disruption and resistance,” says Nguyen.
Many perceive the addition of new people as a threat to their group norms: the traditions, behavioral standards, and unwritten rules that govern how we function as a team.
"One team may come to a consensus that avoiding disagreement is more valuable than debate; another team might develop a culture that encourages vigorous arguments and spurns groupthink,” explains Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter Faster Better, in a piece for the New York Times.
So, how can you reduce this friction and grow positively? In her Pocket Mentor book Managing Change, Harvard Business School Professor Dr. Linda Hill details four beliefs a team must have in order to effectively accept growth:
- They must believe the change (in this case, growing the team) is the right course of action.
- The person leading the change must have the team's respect.
- The team must understand and prepare for new opportunities and challenges that come from the change.
- The team must have been involved in planning and implementing the change effort.
If you can check the boxes above by involving your team in the growth process, things are sure to run much smoother for you.
For all intents and purposes, a growing team is a great sign of organizational health. But that doesn’t change the fact that it makes management and leadership trickier.
Naturally, as your organization grows, your leadership style must evolve alongside it. Learning how to manage an expanding team isn’t always easy, and there are bound to be some growing pains along the way.
However, if you remember to always grow mindfully and effectively communicate, you’re sure to head in the right direction.
Kat Boogaard (@kat_boogaard) is a Midwest-based writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. She is a columnist for Inc., writes for The Muse, is Career Editor for The Everygirl, and a contributor all over the web.