For most startups, the reality is that entrepreneurs simply cannot hire as many staff members as they would like. While there are advantages to operating “lean and mean,” such as reduced costs and the flexibility to “pivot,” managing a small team can bring its own challenges, including disorganization and burnout.
As the co-founder and CEO of Dashbell, an online booking solution for independent hotels, I’ve found some of the biggest challenges arise when it comes to hiring, staying organized, remaining energized and prioritizing.
Here are four strategies for managing teams of under 10 people:
Your staff needs to be able to do multiple tasks and not require direction all the time, so it is important that staff members are flexible and independent. Rather than hiring through regular channels, look for graduates of programs such as the Startup Institute or university programs such as Tufts, which offers training in entrepreneurial studies. Candidates with such training may be better prepared for the realities of a startup environment and will not be expecting to just do their job and walk away at 5 o’clock.
Also, when interviewing candidates, look for people who can demonstrate their buy-in to the business. I ask job candidates to complete a small project as a test before they are hired. In doing so, I am looking less at the finished product they produce than how they react to being asked as a measure of their willingness to jump in and get started.
Focus on organization
When you're juggling many tasks among a team of only a few people, it is important that ideas and tasks are documented. Otherwise, it is easy to overlook important pieces of your business.
One golden rule is to resist the urge to cancel meetings. Once you start delaying your one-on-one staff meetings, your team can get quickly off track.
To help keep your team organized, utilize tools such as the chat service Kato.im, as well as Google Docs, which allows you to track updates without losing important items to the email abyss.
When you are working at an early-stage startup, the reality is there is always more work to do. It will never be done and with the nonstop pace, it is difficult to step away.
The problem of unused vacation is not specific to just startups; unused vacation in the U.S. is at a 40-year high with workers leaving nearly a quarter of their vacation time on the table. Productivity will be much higher during the week if everyone is rested and focused. You will need, however, to lead by example. Go home at night, take your vacations and insist your team does so too.
The fact of the matter is that your small team will not be able to perform every single task a big team can accomplish. Don’t get caught up in the need to act like a large business. Figure out the most important tasks that will make the most impact for the result you need to achieve. If you have clear goals, you can accomplish them by doing less than you would normally think possible.
While small teams face their own challenges, there are many perks as well. Intimate teams, especially those at early-stage startups, develop a strong sense of camaraderie as they work toward their common goal of building a new business. With some strategic management tactics, small teams can conquer the world.
Related: 7 Ways Leaders Can Achieve Big Wins