Just when you think you’ve got your team and situation figured out, things change – especially when you’re growing. Leading teams of less than 10 people is different than leading teams of 10 to 30, and then leading teams of more than 30 presents additional challenges and opportunities.
As your team grows, focus on a different component of the BRAVE leadership framework. The BRAVE approach helps leaders build their team by uniting them around a shared purpose, and it reflects an acronym that stands for behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values and environment. Here’s a quick overview of what each means:
- Behaviors – The actions that make real lasting impact on others.
- Relationships – The heart of leadership. If you can’t connect, you can’t lead.
- Attitudes – Encompassing strategic, posture, and culture choices around how to win.
- Values – The bedrock of a high performing team. Get clear on what really matters and why.
- Environment – Setting the context for everything else by understanding where you are playing.
In our new book, First-Time Leader (request an executive summary), we apply that framework to teams of different sizes.
With Teams of Less Than 10 People, Adopt a Start-up Mindset
If you are starting or joining a small team, lead with environment and values. Assess the competitive landscape to see how you’ll compete, and get clear on the guiding principles that will drive future decisions. Build everything else on these over time. Play where you can solve someone’s problem. Then assemble your early team of complementary partners. Not everyone on the team needs to have strategic, operational and organizational strengths. But someone on the team should, and all must buy in to the same values.
Devanshi Garg was a part of the founding team that led the introduction of the IT consulting firm Icreon Tech to the United States. In an interview, she discussed how in the team’s early days, Garg acted like “we were building our founding team” even though it was part of a larger company. Her mantra in the early days was that the “first few people must fit the Icreon DNA – but with unique personality” and an ability to solve clients’ problems while being “flexible, adaptable, wearing multiple hats.”
The key takeaway for leading small teams is to start by focusing on problem solving, guiding principles and creating momentum.
Lead Teams of 10 to 30 Like an Extended Family
Once the team grows beyond a nuclear family with everyone reporting to one leader, the nature of how the team works changes. At this point, attitude starts to become more important. Get the strategy set, deciding at what you are going to be best in the world, and use that as your guide for how to grow the team and which capabilities to add first. With teams of 10-30 people or so, you’ll know everyone and can treat them like extended family. Even so, this is the time to implement rudimentary people-management and operating practices.
As the Icreon U.S. team grew to this size, Garg said that her internal communication needed to be “more strategic.” Where early on with a small team in a small space with no privacy, communication happened whether people wanted it to or not. As the team grew she had to create events, check-ins and opportunities for team members to do things together – like running a New York Marathon as Team Icreon or going to a Broadway play together.
The lesson here is that as the team grows, emphasize differentiation and culture.
If You’re Leading more than 30 People, Hierarchy is Your Friend
If the team has more than 30 people, you need to get over your natural abhorrence of hierarchy and start substituting some organizational and operating processes for your ability to know everyone on the team. With this size team, lead with relating and delegate appropriately. Work on the organization. Put in place enabling practices to scale. And remember the number one job of the leader is to own and reinforce vision and values. This gets ever more important (and complicated) as the organization grows.
Garg knows that as the team continues to grow, she’ll need to embrace more hierarchy. Though she hopes she can build a “cellular organization” where the different cells exchange ideas as easily as strangers exchange recipes.
In conclusion, when leading teams with more than 30 people work on the organization and enabling practices while reinforcing vision and values.
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