How to Keep the Team Together When Growth is Fast
In the early stages of a companies’ existence (e.g. a startup or early growth organization) it is inevitable that the team is relatively small and people need to wear what might be many “hats”. This means that a CEO may do all the main sales and business development work necessary and the COO handles everything else (including all hiring and firing, for example). This can work well, for a while, because the business is small and the few people in it running things are relatively well aware of what is going on across the business. However, very quickly, and especially as employees are added to the team, everyone’s role becomes more specialized or specific and the team can lose some cohesiveness. In these circumstances, considerably more effort needs to be invested to ensure that everyone is pulling in the same overall direction.
A Brief Illustrative Case Study
Access Labs had been a startup medical laboratory business with just 7 people in Southern California 3 years earlier, but had now grown to a total of 40 staff. In so doing however, the founding team of three people had been “stretched thinly” and each of the now five separate departments were starting to become something of a “fortress”. Executive team meetings, which now consisted of the CEO and 5 senior managers heading up each department, had become more “tetchy” and discussions often ended up in arguments or disputes over priorities or resources. And these arguments were often won by he or she who shouted loudest and longest, not because it was good for the business as a whole or even good for business customers.
In most circumstances, situations like the one above, although common, arise because founders and/or senior managers quickly lose sight of the overarching goal for the business which they probably started with. In other words they lost sight of the overall strategy for the business and instead were now managing, in an unaligned and uncoordinated way, the specific needs of each department with little or no reference to the needs of other departments or to the organization in its entirety.
Keeping what may be a fast growing organization fully aligned across several quite competitive teams is never easy. It takes a willingness to focus on the medium to long term, to communicate regularly for as long as necessary and requires a widespread commitment to adhere to agreements and promises made to others, even when circumstances change. In addition to all of this, three specific CEO or founder actions can also help keep a team “well-oiled” as follows:
1. Having a vision of the future which is compelling and engaging
As a company grows the original vision can get lost or become subordinate to local team goals and plans. This is why the CEO and/or founder team need to craft a compelling vision in the first place and one which engages every individual and every team in some way. This helps to ensure that everyone in the organization must has a clear understanding of the wider needs of the business at all times.
2. Having specific plans to select, motivate and empower individuals and teams
As any company grows and particularly as you add employees to your staff who are completely unknown to you, careful steps must be taken to select people well (with a solid process and plenty of clarity about how they will fit the role you have in mind) and then learn and develop (and ideally become fully empowered and self-motivated). This means that the CEO or founders should think carefully about the culture and values of the organization and how these will be maintained.
3. Redesigning the organization as often as necessary
An early stage organization can have a very loose and flexible organizational design or structure. However, as a business grows so the organizational design needs to be reviewed to deal with changed circumstances at many levels. This includes each team’s roles and responsibilities, which individuals need to be involved in which decisions, how will individual and team progress be tracked and reported and many similar issues. The key here is to keep the organization design as fluid as necessary and not to let it become rigid and inflexible.
In times of high organizational growth, CEOs or founders of the business often lose track of the “big picture” or the overall vision and goals for the organization to be successful. But communicating this is more important than ever when growth is high and people need to be hired, developed and managed carefully with this in mind.