Team management, performance and leadership: A painful triumvirate for business owners

Leadership directly impacts team performance

As a business owner, you are looked to for leadership within your company. Following this, the performance and team management are then meant to trickle down the relevant channels and produce the right result.

But often this can be lost in translation, which then impacts business performance and results.

We are going to dive into some of the areas of team management and leadership that might be impacting your business and explore ways in which you can tighten the reins.

Why team management and team performance matter in small businesses

Although team performance obviously matters to all businesses, to a certain extent, performance is actually more crucial in a small business. The reason for this is that in a small business, most individuals actually fulfil more than one role. If someone is not at the top of their game, that means multiple roles are underperforming.

This also tends to mean there are fewer additional team members available to cover in someone’s absence. Each person’s performance needs to be to a high standard for basic functionality, let alone growth and progression.

Team performance is a common point of stress for small business owners

There needs to be certain standards that are met in every company. Team management should be ensuring the standard of work is meeting expectations. From here, once you know standards are being met, as the leader of the business, it is then your job to push the standard higher.

When we look at what small business owners are doing, more often than not, they are sitting firmly in the management camp, trying to get their staff to perform to the standard that they want them to be. However, these standards have, frequently, not been defined. There are expectations and assumptions but often no defined written standards which are easy to follow or to measure performance against.

From experience, we often find training has been cut short and systems are absent, leaving big challenges for managing teams and ultimately for business growth.

How recruitment processes can set you up for managing any future poor team performance

One of the biggest mistakes we find is that when business owners write their job descriptions, they are actually making a list of tasks rather than providing an outline of key responsibilities.

By listing responsibilities instead of tasks, it gives the person hired ownership of the role. It broadens the tasks that they would do and encourages them to take initiative, rather than giving them the mindset that this isn’t one of my tasks, so I don’t think this is part of my job role.

An example of this is with recruiting for a cleaner. Rather than listing their tasks as wiping down tables, it could be written as, your responsibilities include cleaning the break room, which also includes spillages on the carpet or walls and picking up chairs laying on their side.

This provides a broader remit and it’s about the overall picture rather than the individual tasks that might be included. Often within a job description, we recommend the business owner includes a caveat on the end, which would include any duty which reasonably delivers on the business requirements, that may not be within the technical job title.

Including this remit in everybody’s job description creates a team responsible for performance in the company, as long as it’s within their skill set and capability.

This could be something such as asking an employee to empty the bins. This could likely be a genuine requirement that the company may need occasionally, and by having this remit, you avoid people stating it’s not in their job description or their responsibility.

Ensure your business leaders have the time to manage people

Another big and common issue we come across is the lack of time allocated to managing people.

People management is often worked on an ad hoc basis, regularly put off due to lack of time (and sometimes inclination).

Making time either at the start, middle or end of the day to provide a brief review, check-in on staff happiness and engage with your staff goes a long way.

By leaving this to an ‘as and when’ basis you can miss out on a situation developing, all because you didn’t take the time to check in.

An example could be that there is conflict in the team, and without someone (such as the owner) mediating the issues, it could easily escalate to a complaint being raised. If the issue isn’t timely addressed, then this could result in someone resigning. But if time had been taken earlier on, in small bite sized amounts, the larger and more time-consuming (and potentially business performance damaging) event need not have occurred.

By taking the time to check in with your team, you can spot these potential problems, rather than let them build up into something more severe. The sooner these early warning signs are handled, the sooner you can take preventative action.

Business systems can help and hinder team performance

There will always be variability in the capability and engagement levels for different staff members, but that doesn’t mean you should experience a significant difference in the performance of individual actions or tasks.

The advantage of having a system and a method of working is that everybody is trained and expected to adopt this way of working. The consistency of the outcome of the task being completed in a certain way should then improve.

Poor team performance affects business owners personally, as well as their businesses

Business owners often go through stages of disliking team management (and sometimes this can last for quite a while!) and perhaps even individual team members. It’s often because owners perceive these individuals as personally lacking enthusiasm as opposed to recognising a failure of leadership.

They think of the person as being bad, as opposed to their response to management or leadership absence. This confusion can create barriers in terms of wanting to recruit again or a disbelief in the good nature of employees to perform to their absolute best on behalf of the company.

Whilst there is the occasional bad egg out there that genuinely is problematic, the vast majority of employees want to come to work, enjoy themselves and perform well. If given the right environment and encouragement, then most will prove this to be true.

It may be hard news to take, but very often there has been a failure in the people management and leadership that has caused the team performance headache. Rather than dismissing performance issues as down to the team member in question not being sufficiently enthusiastic about their role, ensure you’ve looked at:

  • What training they have received – has it been sufficient, thorough, consistent and timely?
  • How much time is given over to managing them? Are they only managed when there is a significant issue/challenge or on an on-going basis?
  • Are the standards, expectations and responsibilities clear, documented and agreed?

Change your mindset about people management

There are many occasions where business owners have hired staff members and then taken all the work back off them because they feel they’re either incapable or unwilling to do the work. This is often not challenged soon enough.

It is a reflection of the time that the owner has invested into their staff in terms of relationships, training and management, but also a mindset issue of ‘this used to just be me. I used to do everything, therefore maybe I still have to do everything forever.’

Business owners’ mindsets need to change and focus on wanting the business to work well enough that it can operate without their involvement. This includes starting to remove themselves from doing particular tasks, managing specific areas of the company and insisting upon an upgrade in performance from your staff members.

With wanting to make it happen, it is vital to identify where there are barriers to a person’s performance, rather than just questioning, pointing and shouting at the person. Look to see if they are lacking knowledge, training or if they need to improve their confidence. There are a number of reasons why people don’t perform to a required standard, and only in very few cases do they actually not want to improve.

Invest in your own team management and performance skills

Depending on the owner’s background, they may or may not have any formal training on how to manage teams. They may not have a very good understanding of people; for example it could be that the owner doesn’t have a particularly strong emotional capacity level.

Training, learning and practising could be very helpful in people getting better at managing people, and from this, they can ensure that the team is enabled to do their job well. Rather than just talking at them and expecting them to magically work it out themselves.

This gap may take some time and sometimes an investment of money in a course to resolve this issue. But by the time you’ve done that, you have a great team, and the reward is much bigger than the initial investment.

Everyone learns differently and it’s your responsibility to adapt

Everyone learns differently, has different learning preferences and behavioral styles. Identifying how they work best or in what setting they do their best in, is the mark of a great leader. This can be exceptionally useful once you get your head around it, but it can take time and not everyone on your team will have identical styles.

In the same way, as you treat your family members differently because they have different characters, you need to treat your team members differently, play to their requirements and support them in different ways.

Some in your team may be confident with public speaking and are very outgoing, whilst some might be more reserved, and data-focused. You will have those who are willing to volunteer in a heartbeat while others may wait to watch others go first. There are lots of different character traits to look at and when you understand the nature of a person, then you can manage them and help them become the best that they can be. This will be to the benefit of both their own development and work satisfaction, and for your business’ performance.

How a business coach can help

We can help with coaching sessions or training around subjects such as disc profiling or learning styles. One of our coaches, Tim Rylatt’s, own background is in teaching which gave him a lot of different tools, resources and approaches that have greatly assisted many businesses to improve team performance and the leadership skills of business owners.

Learn more about our 1-2-1 business coaching services.

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