How Small Teams Can Achieve Big Results

How Small Teams Can Achieve Big Results

Julianna Margulies in number35 clothes on The Good Wife.

Image credit: rovided by number35, courtesy of CBS
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If you’ve ever watched The Good Wife on CBS and loved the clothes, you may be surprised that one of the main designers dressing the likes of Julianna Margulies and Christine Baranski on the small screen isn’t a billion-dollar brand, but a 10-year-old one, number35, which has a team of less than 10 people collectively in London and New York City.

So how does a small company go from unknown to being featured on four major TV shows, dressing major celebrities (and minor ones -- I have been dressed by the company in the past, but I did not receive any form of compensation for this column) and increasing revenue year after year? Moreover, how do they get everything done?

I spoke with number35 CEO Andrea Cohen about how a small team can get big results. Cohen says that she was informed by a background that included working in both large and small businesses.

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“My previous roles meant I was developing small teams within big corporate environments or building a small team in a small organization,” Cohen says. “I realized the abilities of a small niche team were greater than those of big, clumsy, less efficient ones. I find that too many team members leads to poor communication and ineffective and often reduced productivity.”

Here are some of Cohen’s best tips for you to make the most of your small team.

1. Take a holistic approach to training and education.

Cohen has found that her team members can perform better in their assigned roles and take on more responsibility if they understand all facets of the business.

“Unlike big teams and big businesses, I try to offer a rounded education, so everyone gets to see the workings of a small business," she says. "This, I believe, helps everyone deliver the same goal.”

I have observed the same with many clients. If the marketing team understands design and vice versa, and both understand the financial implications of the business, it’s more likely to get everyone working towards, and achieving, bigger goals.

2. If you’re the CEO, delegate.

Cohen knows that small businesses where the CEO is too caught up in details are bound to stay small.

“Early on in the business’s history, I became aware that I was micromanaging and I knew that if I didn’t free up my role, we would always be chasing our tails and remaining the same size," she says. "I realized that I needed to concentrate on increasing brand coverage and seeking new opportunities that would give us a positive competitive advantage.”

Cohen says that when she was able to delegate, she could focus on growth opportunities.

“I gave each of my staff a more defined job role and wrote one out for myself too,” she says. “Team members set out to achieve through their roles and I just oversee and check that we are on time, on schedule and on budget.”

3. Give more work to the busiest people.

Cohen learned an important lesson on productivity for small business while working at her grandfather’s clothing factory in the summers of her youth.

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“One year, I watched a management consultant hired to carry out a work-study program to measure each staff member’s productivity," she says. "This was designed to see weaknesses in the tailoring production line. The results astounded me. There were machinists that were working at a much slower pace, therefore holding up the line. Moving these employees to a less complicated line and offering them advanced training increased productivity by 30 percent.

"I also learned that there were certain employees that seemed to have two different roles, like tailoring and production-line quality," she continues. "The manager always went straight to these employees with new tasks. When I told my mother of my observations, she said ‘Andrea, if you always give a job to the busiest person, you will guarantee it gets done.' It’s a great mantra for entrepreneurs and their best employees.”

4. Build alliances.

Number35 came to its first TV role on The Good Wife -- and to an eventual business collaboration -- by reaching out to the show’s costume designer, Daniel Lawson. Even though her first attempt came up short, she stayed persistent and eventually had an opportunity to meet him in person, which led to Lawson dressing the show’s stars in number35 clothes.

After working together informally, they realized a more formal collaboration would be mutually beneficial. Cohen and Lawson set their collaboration up for success by being clear about what both parties wanted. Open and honest communication was tantamount. The two book regular meetings, often at off-hours that accommodate their New York to London time difference.

Creating strategic relationships can open new and big doors for small business that can be built and executed quickly through the nimbleness of a smaller team.

5. Break goals and tasks into bite-sized tasks.

The best way for small businesses to get big results is to think in terms of big goals, but execute small milestones. Cohen says that regardless of the end goal, just focus on the goals at hand and cut them down to bite-sized tasks that are easy to complete before a set deadline. Additionally, to be able to achieve these goals, a small team has to prioritize them.

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