The Art of Operating a Successful Team with Alissa Zimmerman
Every company dreams of having the perfect well-oiled machine with self-sufficient employees: the go-getters, the self-starters, the idea people, those who can manage themselves and their own daily to-do lists without being micromanaged.
We just don’t live in a perfect world.
But this dream of a well-oiled machine of a team can be achieved fairly simply. It takes trial and error, of course. And it’s going to be painful along the way. You’re not going to get it right the first time around (or the second, third, fourth or fifth, sadly). But stick with it. Keep pushing new practices and ideas that work for you and your business, and you will find success for your team.
Figure out and implement a workflow and processes.
You’re not going to get it right on the first try. Getting your team to a state of true functionality requires a constant state of trial and error. We are still finding broken pieces to our team on a daily basis. It’s about what you do and how you respond when you find those pieces. How do you pivot? How do you pick yourselves up? Do you work together to solve the problem? Or do you leave each other out to dry and save yourselves?
I have been with this company for almost seven years, and I spent the first five years working late, painful nights with my team trying endlessly to figure out process and workflow to make our business as efficient as possible. Put the time in now, not once it’s too late and your business is exploding. At that point, you’re already off to the races and you won’t have any policies in place. You’ll simply be reacting to all the fires being thrown at you daily. I guarantee you will hate your job.
Take advantage of tools like 17hats. This business tool is there to help you, not to overwhelm you (although it may not seem that way at first). Take a few days and sit with your team to map out your business and your client experience. You will not be able to set up anything in 17hats without knowing and mapping out your client journey. You will also need to set up all of your emails, quotes, invoices, contracts and questionnaires inside the templates before you can create a workflow. People tend to think that because 17hats is meant for helping your business automate processes by creating workflows, that’s the first step. Wrong. Do not let this tool scare you away from taking the next step to get started. Reach out to their team for help; it’s why they are there.
Make sure everyone on your team knows his or her lane—and stays in it.
This is one of the toughest things for our team because we are all so closely integrated with all of the businesses across Cincotta & Co. Aside from the design team, each of us was trained to wear multiple hats across each company inside the umbrella company. We were also taught to always help each other, no matter what—that no one was above doing any task, no matter one’s rank or seniority. When we moved into our new building, four of us took turns sweeping, vacuuming, dusting and mopping all three floors every week. We would clean the gutters outside the building. We still do our own dishes and take out our own trash. If the CEO of the company can do these tasks, no one is above any other task at this company.
Lanes are still very important. When it comes to crunch time, each person on your team needs to be able to stay focused on his or her own tasks. Once that line gets blurry, it gets difficult to manage your people on a big-picture level. It would be like me creeping over into Sal’s lane and posting Facebook ads for the week for him. That’s definitely not my lane. And it makes no sense for me to even be glancing in that territory when I have other things to focus on.
Instead, I have a list of my top eight to 10 things I need to get done for the day. Once I have those things completed and I see that he (or anyone else on my team) is in the weeds, instead of just leaving for the day, I ask if anyone has anything they could give me from their list to free up some tasks. That is the definition of a well-oiled machine. It seems so simple, but, embarrassingly enough, we didn’t figure that one out right away.
Manage each other’s strengths, not weaknesses.
We all took the Gallup StrengthsFinder test a few years ago (and actually have all new employees take it after they pass the 90-day trial period with our team). This test tells you your top five strengths out of a list of 34.=
Sal has always managed us in a way he learned when he was younger: You will never teach someone who is a 4 (out of 10) in organizational skills to be a 10 in organizational skills. You’ll spend all the energy in the world, and they will never get to 10 by managing them to their weakness. But if that person is an 8 in customer service, you can spend that same energy and easily get them to a 10 by managing them to their strength.
So with the Gallup StrengthsFinder test we all took, we were able to see how we all mesh together to complement Sal’s strengths and weaknesses and each other’s. (The test is $99 for the full version, which gives you access to all 34 traits, and $19 for just your top five traits. Well worth it.)
Feed off of each other.
A team is the best source of inspiration for the creative process. There is no shortage of creative ideas in this crew.
Part of our process is putting together mood boards for every shoot to keep us organized, but that doesn’t ever stifle the creative juices. The inspiration comes from everywhere at all times.
Our team shares a few Pinterest boards that we pin to on a regular basis. These boards include photo shoot inspiration, design ideas, studio decoration and photo packaging ideas. Any time any of us on the team sees something online that we like, we pin to shared Pinterest boards.
There’s nothing more priceless than this real-time ability to collaborate and share ideas and inspiration with your team.