In most startups and small businesses, employees have titles – but those titles don’t mean anything.
Neither do their job descriptions. Sure, job descriptions list theoretical duties… but in practice, every employee just does whatever needs to be done.
And it works.
Then things change. The business grows. It adds people. It gains customers. Situations become increasingly complex. And soon a business that started with a few people who only cared about making things happen turns into an organization with a number of different agendas, different perspectives, different processes – some effective, some not.
And in time the family that once all pulled in the same direction turns into a group of individuals pulling in different directions.
Growth inevitably creates change, so is it impossible to retain a spirit of unity and togetherness when a company grows? Absolutely not – but maintaining that family feeling requires constant effort and focus.
Here are some ways:
Ruthlessly minimize rules and guidelines.
Dedicated, loyal employees spend a lot of time thinking about “why”: why to do things a certain way, why the company does what it does… and especially why they need to follow a bunch of rules.
After all, they don’t need to be told what to do – they know what to do. And they know why.
Keeping rules to a minimum maintains that sense of trust, camaraderie, and “family,” and also allows employees to do what they do best – do whatever needs to be done.
Allow plenty of feedback and pushback.
Early on in the company’s growth no one had all the answers; that meant everyone could challenge, could question, could suggest… everyone’s opinion mattered.
Take that sense of empowerment and ownership away and a family business turns into a company.
Making sure that doors are always open – to good news and bad news, to positive suggestions and to constructive criticism – helps employees feel they are truly in it together.
(And isn’t that a great definition of a family?)
Keep providing puzzles to solve.
Everyone loves solving problems. That’s a good thing, because startups face plenty of problems. Solving a problem isn’t just fun; it’s also rewarding, because being given a problem to solve implies a significant degree of respect: after all, you wouldn’t turn a challenge over to an employee if you didn’t think the employee had the skills and experience to overcome it.
Asking an employee for help also shows a significant level of trust – and trust is the glue that holds every family together.
Aggressively weed out politics.
Employees who truly feel part of a team hate playing political games. They don’t like maneuvering for promotions. They don’t like taking sides. They don’t like trying to take credit for the work of others or trying to protect the credit they rightly deserve.
They love working together to solve huge problems and accomplish amazing things.
The best teams don’t just work well together; they accomplish things together. Nothing succeeds like success. Nothing creates a sense of teamwork and family like shared success.
And nothing kills that sense of teamwork and family like company politics.
Celebrate success as often as possible.
Early on, every win no matter how small was cause for celebration. Then companies get complacent. They grow accustomed to success. And they forget how much fun it is to be recognized for hard work and achievement.
Keep celebrating. Keep recognizing. Keep praising.
No one is ever given too much praise.
Early on, plenty of mistakes got made. Early on that was okay; after all, everyone had to feel their way. Then companies get complacent, grow accustomed to success, and forget that making mistakes is not only the best way to learn but the best way to find new methods, new strategies, and new ways to succeed.
Allow employees to fail – not only will they feel trusted to try new things, but every failure creates a new problem your team can solve.
Most corporations try to optimize their processes and procedures. That’s great for a company with thousands of employees… but terrible for a business trying to maintain a sense of family.
Why? Engagement and satisfaction are largely based on autonomy and independence. Employees care most when a task or project is “theirs.” They care most when they feel in charge and empowered to do what is best.
To maintain that sense of family, give employees the autonomy and independence to work the way they work best. Not only will they usually find ways to do their jobs better than anyone imagined possible, they’ll also maintain a sense of confidence and trust that transforms a group of individuals into a team… and even into a family.
Share with us in the comments below if you have experienced change in your business and how you overcame that change.