How to Build the Perfect Team

Cohesion Is Key at Small Agencies

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Bart Cleveland Bart Cleveland
How is your agency staffed? Is everyone in sync? Does each member complement his or her teammate? Is the sum greater than the parts? These are good questions to ask if your goal is to have an agency that is among the best in our industry. When you're small, it is much more critical that every member of your team be perfectly suited for the team.

I've found that those who have done well at team-building practice these things:

Don't hire people just like you.
In fact go out of your way to hire people that are different from you. We all have weaknesses that a good partner can counter. Make a list of your team members, including yourself. Beside the names have two columns: Strengths and Weaknesses. Fill it out completely. You must have both strengths and weaknesses listed for each member. Then, make a new list of all the strengths and weaknesses as headings and list each team member's name beneath their strength or weakness. How complementary are they to offset one another's weaknesses? This should give you a good idea of where you need to improve your staff.

Recognize when a member of the team is not a fit.
One might be a great talent and be extremely detrimental. Another might be talent-less yet possess a great team attitude. Still another might just be a bump on a log. Regardless of what the problem is, if a team member isn't fitting in, he is are harming your chances of a better future. Ultimately, he is not happy and you are not happy, so get it over with and make it known. Talk straight to him about the problem. You will most likely hear a response that is in agreement. Decide together how to resolve it, and then do it.

Help team members improve.
If that means training, pay for it. If improvement means special guidance, guide. Mentor, teach, exhort and expect excellence. Agencies get the employees they deserve. Do your homework.

Be willing to be the bad guy.
Everyone wants to be liked, but what would you rather have as an agency owner: to be liked or to be respected? Besides, employees don't like employers they don't respect. Earn respect by taking responsibility for the promises you make to your employees. For example, if you promise the agency will do great work, there is no excuse for lousy work. You must give them the opportunity to do great work. If one of your team is rowing the opposite direction from everyone else, you will hear about it. How quickly and how effectively you act is imperative to whether the people that are going to help you succeed will stick with you. Doing what you say you will do is especially important when it comes to team building. A team wins when each team member trusts one another's teammates. That includes the coach.

Lighten up.
Teams that win enjoy the ride. They don't stress out because they're confident in their ability to win. As the leader, you must be the example of that attitude. So have some fun.

Let your employees be themselves.
We work pretty hard at our agency. Not unnecessarily long hours, but focused ones. I'm not very good at taking my foot off the accelerator, and that is sometimes a problem. Fortunately, I have some trusted teammates who come to my office and remind me it's time to go down to the DQ and get a Dilly Bar. Teams that like each other play well together. They look out for one another and they fight for one another. It's hard for a team like that not to win.

As I said, building a winning team is very difficult for small agencies. Each member of the team is so crucial that when one member is a bad fit or not contributing it cannot be hidden. The old adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link is never truer than in small agencies. The most critical application of this principle is that you, the owner, not be that link.
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