Build a Better, Stronger Team

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, a “small” business can employ as many as 1,500 people. Yours is probably a lot smaller than that! But whether you have five or less or 500 or more employees, you have something that — hopefully! — works as a team to attain your desired goals.

Could your current team be more effective, either individually or collectively? Unless you are very, very fortunate, the answer is probably yes. So what will it take to make that happen? It will probably take a combination of better people, better training and better management.

Better people

Here’s a simple statement of fact. Some people are well suited to the job they’re being asked to do, and some are not. Well suited involves two things: skills and attitudes. Maybe a third thing: experience, but I think that’s the least important of the three, and often the most misleading, because there are lots of people in the workforce who have plenty of experience, but still perform poorly.

So what should you do if you employ people who are not well suited to their jobs? The answer is, you should do something! Your team won’t become better or stronger unless you act to make it happen!

Here’s the process I recommend. It starts with an evaluation of your current staff. Make a list of all of your employees, and then give each one a general rating, on a scale of 1-10, with 10 meaning you couldn’t be happier with the individual’s performance, and anything lower meaning there’s room for improvement.

Second stage

The second stage of this process involves a more detailed evaluation. Ask yourself, what criteria can I look at to help me to understand specific areas of strength and weakness? Here are a few I recommend:
• Job skills
• Initiative
• Dedication to the company
• Dedication to the team
• Work ethic
• “Like factor”
• “Trust factor”
• Potential for advancement
• Communication skills — verbal
• Communication skills — listening

Again, this is a purely subjective 1-10 rating. And the list itself is only a starting point. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if you looked at “job skills” at the top of the list and said: “Hey, I can break that into four or five specific job skills that have to be considered.”

Better training

OK, what do you do with this data now that you have it? The first thing is probably to consider whether this individual should be working for you in the first place. If the ratings are mostly positive, with just a few negatives, you’re probably looking at an individual whose performance can be improved. If the ratings are mostly negative, though, you may be looking at someone who can’t be saved.

Here’s something I want you to consider: Any skills necessary for a high level of job performance, but not present in a current employee, must be trained. Any attitudes necessary for a high level of performance, but not present in a current employee, must be managed and/or motivated. If you have enough time and other training and management/motivational resources, you can almost always improve performance. If you don’t, though, you probably can’t.

Improvement plan

The second thing you should do with this rating data it is to craft a performance improvement plan for each member of your team. You have identified specific weaknesses, so now you ask yourself how you can strengthen those weaknesses. Beyond that, you may also have to ask yourself which weaknesses to address first.

This is an important issue, and it applies both to individuals and to your team as a whole. One individual may have two or more areas for improvement, but you only have time and other resources to deal with one of them. OK, which is the most important one? And, how much improvement should you be looking for? Let’s say that you rated an individual as a 5 in two areas, but you recognize that the one is really the fundamental problem. You might make a plan to work on that one for the next 30 days, with the goal of getting the employee from a 5 to a 7 in that time frame. Then you could switch to the other one for the next 30 days, with a similar goal. After that, you might go back to the first one for another 30 days, with the goal of getting from 7 to 8 — or you might stick with the other one for another month, with a similar goal. Remember that this is all about improvement, and it’s perfectly OK if that improvement comes over time.

Better management

It’s been my experience that most managers don’t manage very well, in small businesses or large ones. That’s because they manage from the top, rather than from the front and from the beginning. I think this stems from a commonly-accepted definition of management, which most managers seem to think is about being in charge. Personally, I think good management is more about being an enabler than being a boss. And it works best when managers don’t manage people, but instead create and manage teams.

Dave Fellman is the president of David Fellman & Associates, Raleigh, NC, a sales and marketing consulting firm serving numerous segments of Small Business America. Contact Dave by phone at 919-363-4068 or by e-mail at [email protected]. Visit his website at