Written By: The SBA

To what do you credit your business success? The financing you got during your start-up or growth phase? Your visionary business plan? Or perhaps your steadfast and determined leadership?

The truth is, for many small businesses, one of the most powerful elements in achieving success is a successful team. Successful teams empower, challenge and motivate employees to learn, grow, achieve and invest in the success of the business. They also make for happier employees and bolster retention rates.

Without teamwork, the workplace can become rife with unchecked egos, negativity, mediocre performance and under-valued employees.

Here are some ideas that can help you foster great team work (and yes, it will mean changing some of your old habits too).

Give Your Employees Parameters in Which to Make Decisions

You can’t do it all, and being the point of escalation for every issue, query or complaint is unsustainable. So look for ways in which you can empower your employees to make certain business decisions without you – after all, the person closest to the action is often the best person to make a decision, as long as they make that decision in the broader context of the implications for your business. Encourage your employees to consider the impact their decision will have on the customer, employees and business profitability. If they have any doubts about whether they are doing the right thing, then that becomes the time to escalate.

You could also do what the owners of Fairytale Brownies, an Arizona-based online and mail-order baking business, do – give employees the authority to spend up to $100 to solve a customer problem without having to ask. It works, because 95% of the businesses’ problems can be solved with $100 or less – whether it’s re-shipping an order, refunding a disgruntled customer, and so on.

Don’t Always Hire Based on Skills

Hiring the perfect candidate based on a skills-match may sound like the way to go, but oftentimes candidates with energy, enthusiasm, an eagerness to learn, and core values that align with yours may work out better in the long run. If a candidate has the right attitude and can demonstrate an aptitude to learn, even if they don’t have a perfect skill match, the chances are you can teach them most of what they need to know.

Challenge Your Employees

Take your employees outside of their comfort zone and task them with more than you think they might actually be able to handle. One of the best ways to promote talent is to nurture it; employees rarely grow if they stick to their job description and daily tasks.

Don’t Forget the Team Behind Your Team – Employees’ Families

Building a team also means taking care of those behind the scenes. Look for ways to include your employee’s families in your company’s social events, functions, fund-raisers, bring-your-kids/pets-to-work days, and so on.

Use Incentives to Drive Engagement

Incentives can encourage your team to get behind your mission. You could incentivize teams based on project completion goals or reward team members by function, such as “superintendent of the month” or “server of the month” – and offer perks as a reward. You could also use incentives to encourage employees to provide feedback about your business—say, free movie tickets in exchange for business improvement suggestions.

Be an Accessible and Inclusive Leader

Anyone can be a boss, but it takes a particular skill to be a good leader. Look for ways to demonstrate that you listen and care about your team’s work, their concerns, and their aspirations. For example, give employees more face time (simple things like skipping the usual back and forth over email; instead, hold a quick one-on-one in your office) or consider establishing mentor/protégé programs. Look for ways to be inclusive of your team, from monthly “lunch-and-learn” training opportunities to team brainstorming meetings. Don’t forget your management team– make room for quality face time for them too.

Deal with Egos

Egos can be destructive to the team dynamic, but they are hard to ignore. Instead, look for ways to recognize and acknowledge the value that a tricky employee brings to the table – the goal is to integrate individualists into the team, not isolate them.

About the Author:

U.S. Small Business Administration
The SBA is an independent federal agency that works to assist and protect the interests of American small businesses. The agency delivers the answers, support and resources small businesses need to start-up, grow and succeed through district offices throughout the U.S. and a network of resource partners including SCORE. | Facebook | @SBAgov