Friday, December 10, 2010

Building a Team - And Relying On Them

One of my favorite books is The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. One of the reasons it's a favorite is that it's filled with lessons I have to keep learning over and over again.

The book is written as the story of a woman who starts a new company and learns various lessons. At one point she hires someone, turns over all the unpleasant work to her, and then goes on to love her job a lot more. So life is good . . . until her assistant quits.

Her first reaction is to jump back in and do everything herself. She learned the (wrong) lesson that she couldn't rely on anyone to take the job as seriously as she did. So now she finds herself opening early, closing late, and doing every single thing . . . and hating her job more than ever.

Eventually, she learned the right lesson: If you're going to grow, you need to turn over some chores to other people. And you might need to take them back for a short period of time. But once it works to turn things over to others, you should never take them back "permanently."

And the broader lesson: You should be building your team at all times. You should do cross training. You should make sure that you know what to do when someone quits.


Not if.

Someone will quit. Someone will leave you hanging. Maybe not on purpose. After all, people have lives, kids, relatives, etc. Stuff happens. People move. Life goes on.

One of the hard lessons for me - that I have to learn over and over every year - is that I can't take back the work I've passed to someone else. This is a VERY natural and strong tendency. But it's also a business killer.

Building My Team

I didn't set out to build a team. I hired a guy. Then I hired a gal. Then another guy. Then some more. And on and on.

I didn't realize I'd built a "team" until Manuel took over as President of KPEnterprises and I handed him a team to execute his directives. The team changed and morphed and matured. The personnel changed. The look and feel and culture evolved. But it was always a team after that.

Over at Great Little Book, I realized we had a team when we produced our last book (590 pages plus web site, downloadable content, etc.). That book required a process for writing, editing, graphics, layout, and so forth. With smaller books I farmed out various chores to other people/companies. With the The Network Migration Workbook we did it all in-house.

So what makes a team a team? That is, what makes it a team vs. just a bunch of people who work together? In my opinion, a team is a group of positions filled with the right people and the positions are structured in such a way that the organization can accomplish something that cannot be accomplished by an individual.

That's literally the key to success. The team can do things that an individual cannot.

There are lots of really BIG examples of things that can't be done by individuals. An individual cannot build a skyscraper or an ocean liner. An individual cannot build a highway or a modern car. And there's nothing new about this. The seven wonders of the ancient world were built by large groups of people - not by single individuals.

But you might do things on a smaller scale. So why do you need a team?

Well, let's take tech support for example. With a team, individuals can rely on each other to carry out certain jobs. Rather than having a company in which every person is an autonomous "business unit," individuals play roles and specialize.

Our team includes our business partners at Zenith Infotech. They play a specific role and work is passed back and forth between people working at our location and people working at their locations. But they are part of our team and help us to do things we could not otherwise do.

In public relations, web marketing, and customer service, teams can provide a higher level of performance than a group of individuals who are not constituted into a team.

Here are the basic characteristics of a team within a small business:

- In teams, positions exist independent of who occupies them

- In teams, people "play the roles" defined by the team, but individuals can move from role to role

- In teams, people act in such a way that they hand work back and forth with the assumption that each individual (role) is doing his job. This is the hardest piece for some small businesses to grasp.

- If a member leaves the team, it is not a crisis. A new person is hired into that position.

- With a team, the boss should not be allowed to stick her nose too far into the business of the team. The boss's job exists at the level of creating ideas, brainstorming, evaluating, motivating, . . . and pretty much everything except the low-level executing.

When you hear people debating about whether they can or should delegate, those are people who either don't have a team or are not using their team effectively. If you want your team to execute and take your business to a higher level than you could possibly do by yourself, you need to turn things over to them and not take them back.

I could imagine downsizing my companies to the point where I do all the work again. But I hope that never happens. I want to keep fine-tuning the team so we can continue to do amazing things.

For example, at GLB:

During SMB Nation, we broadcast six live podcasts. These were recorded and uploaded to our skydrive. Jerry ran around and recorded Flip videos of all kinds of people. He uploaded those to the sky drive. Monica was back in the office. She produced final videos and audio files. Then she "marketed" them on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

In three days my team created, produced, posted, and advertised six podcasts and 39 YouTube videos. That is literally something I could not have done alone.

- - - - -

Now when I think about fine-tuning my team, I think about the whole team. I don't think about individuals and what they can do. I think about the roles I need played and how I can get the right people in the right roles. Then I think about all the amazing stuff we can do that we never could without a team.


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