With less people to look after it is easy to think that guiding a small team is significantly easier than managing a large one. There are in fact pros and cons for managing either and other factors, such as the type of culture an organisation has, will also impact on how easy it is to manage the people in them.
A large team in a business with a strong and positive company culture could in fact be easier to manage than a small team in an organisation with a culture that is toxic.
Here I’ll be focusing on the general difficulties faced in managing a small team and the tactics that can be employed to overcome them.
Common difficulties managing small teams (and tactics to deal with them)
In a positive culture, small teams tend to be close knit, and this can make managing the team easier. Small teams are generally easier to manage because there are fewer people to oversee and coordinate, they tend to be in the same location, and in a positive culture, employees generally want to work hard and be there.
However, even in a business with a strong culture, there are distinct challenges for those managing small teams. Here are some of the difficulties managers of small teams face and tactics for dealing with them.
Making time for recognition
Ultimately, the culture of an organisation will define how committed and passionate individuals are and how supportive managers are. When small teams are constantly overstretched, it is sometimes difficult for managers to take the time to notice small achievements.
Artemis Marketing are one example of an SME committed to supporting individual and managerial growth within small teams and recognising achievements.
The digital marketing agency have managed to do this by creating a supportive learning environment, giving managers coaching and employees the opportunity for personal growth, as well as placing importance on team building.
Managing Director, Mike Knivett, says “Growing a positive culture has been challenging, but has been fundamental to business success. Giving recognition to employees each and every time they’ve done a good job has been a big part of that.”
In a small team workload can be a challenge. It’s not uncommon for the manager of a small team to feel overloaded, largely because they will have their own workload to commit to, as well as having to find time for managing the people (and any problems) under them.
Being constantly overstretched often results in an overwhelmed feeling, and this can permeate teams. This is especially problematic if a manager gives off the vibe that they are too busy to be approached.
Prioritising tasks is essential. Finding the time to properly coach and manage all of the employees in the team is equally important. Hold regular one-to-ones with staff to give them the opportunity to raise any concerns and ensure they are happy and working as efficiently and effectively as possible.
With regular meet-ups, non-urgent problems can be taken care of without causing constant interruption.
When things do get tough, see some strategies for leading an overwhelmed team here. Consider using freelancers when your team is struggling to keep up with the workload and importantly know when it is time to recruit.
Staying on track
When teams are overstretched, it’s not uncommon for important meetings to get cancelled. However, this can have a negative effect on outcomes and achievements. Making time for meetings is imperative to ensure everybody understands what is expected of them.
Introduce team meetings as a part of your workplace routine. Keep them short and regular. This will help the team to stay focused and on the same page.
Coping with less specialised roles
In large organisations there is generally at least one employee for every position. But, in small businesses where teams are smaller, specialisation of tasks is likely to be less.
Managers and employees in smaller businesses are required to take on multiple tasks and everyone is required to pitch in to cover absences, such as holiday and illness. Here positive management skills involve the ability to see where strengths and weaknesses lie within the team. Appropriate delegation of tasks will help the team to effectively deal with a lack of specialisation more effectively.
Senior management priorities
Depending on the culture of the business, managers in smaller organisations may find they are periodically given less attention by senior management. This is particularly true of teams working on smaller and perhaps the least pressing projects within a business.
This can cause problems when there is a need for executive direction. A frank discussion with senior management is essential to agree on how to move forward without taking up too much senior management time.
Changing goal posts and managing different personalities
Goals are more vulnerable to change within small teams, so having a flexible mindset is imperative. Both managers and employees need to show flexibility in handling workload and accomplishing goals. Adopting a flexible mindset empowers managers to overcome problems and view obstacles as an opportunity.
Treating employees fairly in difficult circumstances is much more easily achieved with a flexible mindset. In a small team, different personalities can also more easily clash. Encouraging everyone in the team to develop a flexible mindset will help to move employees away from fixed, shallow and insecure thinking. See here for some tips on managing different personalities at work.
Ultimately communication is key.
Balancing productivity and work-life balance
Small teams are often up against it, but it is critical burnout gets avoided at all costs. Watch out for any signs of stress and use regular check-ins with your team to establish pinch points. A simple redistribution of workload could be enough to keep productivity up without some employees tipping into a poor work-life balance.
Ask for your teams input on how they can better achieve work-life balance. Don’t expect staff to do regular overtime and always lead by example. Promoting work-life balance amongst your team is the key to productivity.
Managing a small team has its own peculiarities when compared to the management of larger teams. Common difficulties often revolve around the fact that small teams are over-stretched. Managers are likely to have their own workload and this impacts on the attention they are able to give to individual members in the team.
In addition, small teams tend to support roles that are less specialised, which can make workloads more difficult to manage. Covering holidays and sickness can cause additional strain in a small team when there isn’t the manpower to cope.
Personality clashes and toxic behaviour can also drag a small team down, especially silently toxic behaviours that creep in unnoticed by a busy manager. Coaching individuals is essential, as is the recognition of small achievements.
Managers should have hawk-eyes for stress, and constantly be playing to the strengths and understanding the weaknesses of individuals in their team and balancing the workload accordingly.
Importantly, the effective management of small teams is ultimately defined by the culture the team sits in. Businesses with a strong and positive culture will offer the support managers need to back a happy, healthy and productive team. Communication and flexibility are key.
About the Author
Dakota Murphey has worked with a range of established companies as a business growth consultant. Since becoming a full-time Mother she’s turned her hand towards sharing her knowledge and experience through her writing and connecting with other industry professionals. Follow her on Twitter.