Effectively Leading Teams After the Growth Subsides

11/05/2016 12:09 pm ET

Building and growing an organization is fun! Doing so certainly comes with a unique set of challenges, but for the most part they're interesting and morale is high, which makes the job all kinds of interesting. Managing an organization that is static or shrinking can totally suck if you don't do it right.

Employee satisfaction is an amazing thing and a key aspect of making your job awesome. During times of growth, everyone is invariably happy with their jobs. Staff sees an incredible growth opportunity, a lot of great new team members they can mentor, and there's just a general buzz that surrounds expansion. But eventually the expansion slows in every organization and on every team. And I've never met anyone who was ready for it when it came.

What is a leader to do? How do you keep a cohesive team who has done everything the organization asked of them engaged? How do you provide the rewards of a great career path if not within your team?

  • Make sure employees feel safe. Employees need to feel secure in their jobs. When employees take on more work and see that hiring has slowed, they will assume the worst. Be completely transparent. Show enough respect for staff to explain as much as allowed, even if it means they start to leave of their own accord. Of course, this starts with having a sound strategy!
  • Understand the people. We're all motivated by something different. Make sure to understand what motivates team members, or have their supervisors find out. Then double-check by surveying staff and comparing those results to the qualitative analysis done by your team.
  • Provide different ways to recognize success. When an organization decides to shift priorities and limit funding for a team, the key metrics you gauge performance on must mature. This often starts by moving from billings to margin, from margin to channel empowerment, or from any of these to innovation.
  • Find ways to be more visible in the organization. As growth in teams slows, increasing visibility within an organization lets team members feel positive about their roles in the organization. Allowing employees access to other teams also allows for networking, more idea sharing in ways that might not have been possible during times of hyper growth, and fosters a greater sense of teamwork within the organization. Becoming more visible also provides exposure to each member of the staff.
  • If you love someone, set them free. Champion your best employees; be willing to replace them. Even if doing so makes your life harder, rewarding great work will inspire the next generation to be better. Alternatively, not recognizing the potential in your staff leads to disgruntled employees and crappy work. Watching my former staff flourish in new roles is the area of my career I get the most satisfaction from; hopefully you do as well!

Ultimately the ability to lead a growing organization is easier than leading an organization that isn't going anywhere (albeit often because it's too busy rowing the boat to rock it). Taking on a static organization is really easy, because someone else already dealt with reframing how the organization survives. But doing that reframing means taking care of staff first and foremost. Look for how the team fits in the new layout. Let the team help not only define the strategy, but also lay out the tactics to achieve the strategy. Empower everyone to contribute on every level, if you haven't already.

Whatever you do, don't retreat within your team. Focus on the happiness and well-being of the team, but when the growth slows look outwards for opportunities to contribute to all areas of the organization. Look for ways to help employees and ways to do what is right, making sure to align their needs with those of the organization. And keep in mind that aligning the strategy of a group with that of an organization is the key to success of the organization as a whole. If each manager simply looks to bolster their team, they will do nothing more than fracture an otherwise cohesive organization.

Finally, I didn't talk about lay offs at all in this article. I've had to do different types of lay offs in the past and I believe in the dignity of those on the other side of the table far too much to go into that here. Ultimately, reducing the size of an organization starts with finding ways to try and keep the best, brightest, and most committed on your team. But when you can't, and you have to let staff go, there is no feeling of dread than on those days. By keeping your strategy aligned with that of the organization as a whole, you have the best possibility of not seeing organizational shifts lead to that.

Good luck out there, and may you sleep well after this budgeting season is over!

Note: If you're on my team, this article is based on conversations with friends out there in the world who are trying to reconcile their budgets for next year, and based on the memories these sparked about challenges I met in the past; not a reflection of anything to be concerned about!