Asking staff to take on multiple responsibilities doesn’t have to mean chaos. Here’s how to keep the office calm, happy, and productive.
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Q: How can I help create in-office efficiencies, especially when my team is small and we’re all juggling tasks and responsibilities? — Michelle N., Nashua, N.H.
Put 10 entrepreneurs in a room, and you’ll hear the same mantras recited: Hustle. Focus. Do more with less. Survive.
As inspiring as those words might sound, they can’t ensure success. There’s a reason that more than 50 percent of startups fail in the first five years.
Creating efficiencies means establishing an infrastructure that can help your business in multiple situations. After all, failure isn’t always a by-product of a bad idea or a bad team. Sometimes everything is going right until it goes wrong: the website that gets too much traffic and crashes, or a product so in demand that inventory needs can’t be met. I even read about a restaurant that, after being voted best burger in America, faced such intense crowds that it had to shut down.
These examples are everywhere, but the common denominator is the same. Every business, no matter the size or stage, needs systems that allow its team to move fast without breaking (too many) things.
In the early days of my branding agency, Pen Name Consulting, we were faced with a big challenge. In a span of three months, we landed contracts with Equinox, Dollar Shave Club, and Microsoft. It was exciting news, but scary, too: We were a tiny team of just two full-time employees and some contractors. Still, we managed to make it work and renewed longer-term contracts with two of those clients.
How? We built checks and balances that began at a macro level and worked down to the micro. It might seem like a lot of work, but a little bit of extra planning can go a long way.
To keep a small team functioning at maximum efficiency, consider these five key principles.
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1. Set expectations.
When you build your team, it’s important for new hires to understand that the job will require work outside their typical scope of expertise. Teams that thrive are aligned on the bigger mission and have a clear understanding of how additional responsibilities are tied to success.
2. Learn from others.
People are more willing to pay it forward than you realize. Find someone who has walked in your shoes, explain one problem you have, and see what their advice is. If you focus on a specific hurdle, you’re likely to receive a very specific answer.
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3. Assign project managers.
Every aspect of your business should have a “keeper” — someone who keeps all the chess pieces from falling off the board. I assign a different keeper to client services and internal functions, with each maintaining a macro view of responsibilities. Lean on apps like Asana or Slack to create an extra layer of visibility in case anything breaks down.
4. Weekly check-ins.
At each of my businesses, we gather at the beginning and the end of the week. On Mondays, we run through each team member’s primary goals for the week during a 30-minute meeting. On Friday, we block out an hour and check in on those goals. That way, if goals weren’t met, we have time to discuss why and outline a solution.
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5. Daily check-ins.
Meeting culture can be a problem, yes, but if you keep daily check-ins to just 15 minutes, they don’t feel like meetings. Instead, they’re quick conversations that are more about support and care than tactical solutions. When things are moving fast, it’s important to make sure your team is doing well and knows you have their back.
Remember, multitasking doesn’t have to mean inefficiency. But it requires transparency, planning, and backup systems. In the short term, it will improve the function of your business. In the long run, it will help identify where you need the most support as you continue to grow.