Most small teams are born out of big dreams.
But sometimes big dreams can be interrupted with the small, daily challenges that come with running any group or organization–sending that email, building a website, advertising on social media, making more coffee. Maybe you can relate if you’re involved in a nonprofit, small business, or even a small team that’s part of a bigger mission.
We’re a small team, so we’ve been there too. And, despite a lot of challenges, there are often simple solutions. And don’t worry–it’s possible to create meaningful change without reconstructing your whole organization. We’ve put together a quick start guide that offers solutions to help you navigate specific challenges that come when you work with and on small teams.
A lot of small businesses and nonprofits start with one or two people. As they bring people on, team growth can feel organic, often without specific onboarding processes or formal training.
The smaller your team, the more common it is for your colleagues to feel like close friends–or in some cases, annoying siblings–rather than professional associates. Working can feel more flexible and familiar, which–to many people–is an appeal of working on small teams. The challenge comes when it’s time to build structure into a growing company because it can be hard to let go of that family-style work culture.
But, staying organized and communicating effectively don’t have to come through rigid policies and distant-feeling protocols. One way to meet this challenge and combat a disorganized work environment is to start slow. Restructuring meetings can be a great place to start. At some point in your career, you might have been invited to one of those infamous “let’s touch base” meetings. Don’t get us wrong–communication and feedback are vital to any team, but sometimes these types of meetings can end up wasting time if there aren’t specific expectations or goals. Not only time, but money too. If you’re interested, you can even find out how much money each meeting costs you with this Meeting Cost Calculator.
Sometimes meetings can just become part of your everyday routine–no questions asked. It could be helpful to ask a few questions before your next team meeting. What do you hope to accomplish? Does it need to be an hour (or even thirty minutes) long? Does the whole team need to be there, or just a few people?
After taking time to really think through your goals, you can develop a simple agenda to make sure these are met. It doesn’t have to be formal and complicated and it doesn’t have to include a 12-point outline. But taking time to jot down a few goals and discussion topics (or whatever categories would be most helpful to your type of team) can help you get more out of each meeting and cut out the meetings that aren’t getting your team anywhere.
Using Your Resources
If you’re part of a small business or nonprofit, you might be familiar with the constraints of meager budgets and mediocre tools. And, while your team’s passion for your mission is what will keep your work alive, small teams unquestionably have more limitations than big companies when it comes to resources. It can feel a lot like trying to juggle money, time, and grit. Whether it’s money, time, or team members that are limited (or maybe a combination of all three), it’s important to “spend” them in the right place.
If you’re running a business, spending money is inevitable so prioritizing is a must. One of the simplest ways to see what’s working and what isn’t–when it comes to your money–is to use analytics. If that sounds complicated, just stick with us.
Is it possible to just get lost in the data? Yes, but, there are also a lot of simple solutions for people who aren’t professional analysts. The best tools for your team will depend on what your team does, but, in general, Google Analytics is a good place to start if you’re new to the game. Some other tried and true tools that can be used for do-it-yourself analytics are Microsoft Excel, Kissmetrics, and many social media platforms. Social mention and quintly are tools specifically helpful for small businesses (but mostly track social-media-related metrics).
In the world of juggling your resources, data can help your team know where to spend your money wisely. There are a lot of resources out there to get beginners started with analytics. However, some teams just might not be in a place to take on a new endeavor like this on their own at this point in time. If that’s you, there are a lot of options for external support.
Time is one of the resources that can get easily overlooked on small teams. This is especially true for teams that have fostered a strong work ethic or passion for their mission. On a tight budget, time can seem like the only thing that doesn’t cost more money and you might spend hours of your day on the in-between tasks, or, on the other hand, the specialized tasks that your team isn’t equipped to take care of yourself.
If you find yourself losing time in the small, in-between moments, it might be worth considering how you can use automation to do repetitive jobs for you. Automation can be set up for almost any task you could think of–scheduling emails, marketing assistance, and notifying your team, just to name a few.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to tackle specialized tasks–like building a website, designing a logo, managing your finances, marketing–sometimes outsourcing might be more advantageous. Think of it as a long-term investment. You might spend more money contracting this work out, but, in the long run, it might be a good tradeoff so that you and your team can focus on what you do best.
Ultimately, your teammates are some of your most valuable resources. You might save money by adding fewer teammates, but each person will have to stretch to fill more roles. Stretched too thin, your team can run the risk of burnout.
Instead of just hoping for the best, cross-training your team can help ward off burnout before it starts. Each person is naturally gifted to excel at certain tasks. Assigning team member roles based on where they thrive is vital. But, as each member grows in awareness and experience of new roles, the work can be shared among team members more easily. Cross-training creates an agile team–you can shift the work around when it typically would rest on one or two people, and you can pivot when unexpected challenges come up. Studies have even shown that cross-training improves your return-on-investment and gives your employees new and informed ways to collaborate across roles that aren’t possible when they only understand their own.
Some teams enjoy taking on these challenges and there are a lot of resources out there to help small businesses succeed. Sometimes, however, getting outside support could be your best option. Not only can this be a wise investment when it comes to your team’s time and budget, but ultimately, it can help you focus on your mission and what you love to do. Extra support is one way to help small teams get back to their big dreams.