Managing a Growing Team? Do it Mindfully

Managing a growing team is of course exciting. But, if we're being honest, it is also a little daunting. Fortunately there are steps you can take to keep the situation calm and controlled.
Emily Weissang

Fast growing teams are generally a welcome sign that your organization is making the right moves and thriving in its field.

But what if you are the person charged with managing a growing team? As a leader within a rapidly scaling organization, you might be doing this all from scratch, at speed, and with little guidance.

Without a doubt, managing a growing team is a substantial professional challenge for anyone. But if you confront the "growing pains" and set the team up for success, you can help your organization on the path to sustainable, long-term growth. Let's get into it.

What does it mean to grow a team?

When we think of a growing team, hiring and headcount are probably the first things that come to mind. If you are meeting the limits of your current team’s capacity but hoping to do more in the future, hiring new employees will form a major component of growing your team.

But growing a team isn’t just about seeing new faces around the table. Sometimes it’s not just the sheer volume of work that needs to be done, but the type of work and the skills required to complete it. And when a skills gap is the issue, hiring is one potential solution. But it isn’t the only one.

Indeed, one of the many benefits of a structured approach to resource planning is that you can identify skills gaps in your team, and determine whether you should hire, or whether upskilling someone on your current team is actually the better solution.

And, as a team leader, helping your team grow and develop their professional skillset can be one of the most rewarding elements of the job.

What are team growing pains?

“Team growing pains” is an expression that covers all the inefficiencies, stresses, and conflicts that can crop up when a team grows faster than its infrastructure can handle. Whether the team has gained more people, or is tackling more projects - or both - this growth puts stress on the existing systems.

Every team is likely to feel these pains in different areas depending on the work they do, but common growing pains include:

  • Miscommunication and misalignment
  • Insufficient or inadequate tooling
  • Unclear values and culture
  • Overwork and burnout

Julie Zhuo, former VP of Product Design at Facebook, can vouch for the importance of getting a grip on growing pains. Reflecting on how she felt when her team ballooned from a tight-knit crew of designers into a huge department, she had the following wise words to share:

“Everything seemed to be going smoothly. Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, I realized that the old way of doing things was no longer working…there were more unexpected issues, more announcements to communicate, more decisions to keep track of. This pattern kept repeating itself. As soon as I figured out a better process, a few more people would join and the gears would get clogged once more. The only way to stay effective was to constantly change and adapt.”

There is probably no way to avoid team growing pains entirely. But by staying one step ahead of growth and planning mindfully for your team’s future development, you will be able to avoid the worst of them.

So, how do you manage a growing team (mindfully)?

Bearing in mind that growing a team encompasses all areas from hiring, to relationship management, to professional development, you’ll have a lot of hats to wear. We recommend prioritizing these five key areas to see the most impactful results:

1. Take a capacity planning approach to hiring

Deciding when and who to hire is always a high-stakes decision. It should not be ad-hoc or based on panicky guesswork as the project pipeline starts backing up. It should be deliberate - and ideally planned before the rest of the team is overloaded.

However, the CIPD found that only 23% of organizations are collecting data to predict when they will need to hire new staff. This means that the vast majority are essentially just guessing, or waiting until the need for new team members is inescapably obvious. But, by this point, the current team will likely be feeling the heat - big time.

But this high-pressure, imprecise approach can be avoided. Use a capacity planning process to help you predict ahead of time when you’ll need additional capacity. This way, you’ll be able to get new team members onboarded and ready to hit the ground running in plenty of time, before your projects are at the crunch point.

If capacity planning is a novel idea to you and you’re not sure what data points could help you make better-informed hiring decisions, start with resource management. We have plenty of information to get you going in the right direction, including our guide to resource planning.

2. Keep communication at the heart of everything

It’s naturally much easier to keep everyone in the loop when you’re in a small team. Everyone can get involved in the daily stand-up, and you probably have space in your diary for pretty regular 1:1 catch-ups with everyone on the team. 

However, as your growing team restructures and reporting lines change, the lines of communication will have to change too. As you delegate managerial responsibilities within the team, and your direct reports have junior staff reporting into them, you put yourself at a remove from what’s happening on the ground. You will need to find new ways of communicating that stand up to this new structure.

Be aware that your seniority within the team might make you seem somewhat distant to a new team member. They might not be sure how to approach you, unless you make a very clear point of keeping that office door open (physically or metaphorically). Culture and communication go hand-in-hand.

3. Adapt your tooling and processes

Much as with communication, the processes and systems that work well in a small team are not always scalable. As your team grows either in size or in complexity, you will need tools that can stand up to these changes.

Consider the apps in your current tech stack. Can they accommodate an increased number of users? Will they work well with more data and more inputs, and still continue to give you the level of detail you need?

Let’s take scheduling and PTO as an example. If your team is made up of just a few individuals, it’s pretty easy to track everyone’s PTO in a spreadsheet. With a little ingenuity, you can avoid scheduling conflicts and minimize times when the crew is short, while honoring people’s requests as much as possible. 

But take that close-knit, communicative team of ten, and then double it, or triple it. The more people there are in the mix, the more complexity you face. You can begin to see why managers spend several hours each day on admin alone. This is where smart resource management tools can really save the day (literally… it will save you substantial amounts of time each day).

However, it bears remembering that it takes time to get everybody up and running on a new tool. Waiting for the current processes to become unworkable is never a good idea. Try to stay ahead of the game and consider what functionalities your growing team is likely to need, not now, but six months or twelve months from today. Always think “future-proof” where you can.

4. Make sure your onboarding process is scalable and deliberate

When you bring a new person onboard in your company, what does their first day look like? Their first month? Is there a consistent approach across the board, or does it largely depend on which department they are starting in?

No matter what team someone was hired to join or what they were hired to do, there are going to be some themes that crossover, like the company's core values, and practicalities that are relevant to all employees. Having a standardized onboarding process around these company-wide themes is going to help set new employees off on the right foot. 

Similarly, do not be afraid to create a strategic plan with set milestones and goals for new starters. Ambiguity is no help to someone who is new to the way your team, your company, and maybe even how your industry functions.

Indeed, too much uncertainty may even leave your new team member feeling anxious about what they might be getting right or wrong. You're better off making expectations clear so that new hires can feel confident that they are doing the right thing and making a good impression.

Setting up a self-service knowledge base or portal for new starters can also help. This is a strategy that scales well, as the new team members can access this at their own pace without needing someone to guide them.

5. Don’t forget about current team members

When managing a growing team, your focus will probably be on getting the new people up to speed. But do not make the mistake of letting existing team members fall to the back of your mind. The last thing you want is to try to grow headcount by hiring a few new people, only to experience a “domino effect” of established employees leaving because they feel that their professional growth has been deprioritized.

In order for team growth to be sustainable and successful, you need the established people on your side. Are they going to be “culture champions”, excited to see new faces join your dynamic team? Or are they going to seem burnt-out, checked-out, and unwilling to help out with their new colleagues?

How can you make existing team members feel valued while the team is growing?

Team growth is an exciting undertaking, and times of development and change offer some great chances for existing employees to gain new skills themselves. It’s worth taking the time to make these opportunities really accessible and substantial for your existing team members.

For instance, if any of your team have ever expressed an interest in mentoring someone, this could be a wonderful opportunity for them to try. Allow them to take on responsibility for some of the onboarding process by pairing them with new team members.

Likewise, is anyone on the team a “Super User” or particularly adept with any of the platforms or processes that your new starters will need to know? Give this person the opportunity to lead this side of the onboarding.

Finally, if your processes and tools are changing over time, it's vital to make sure that existing employees are introduced to these, just the same as new employees. No one likes falling behind or feeling obsolete.

If you want the entire team to feel cohesive and positive, you have to make sure that everyone has the knowledge that they need, whether they are new or whether they’ve been with the company since day one.

How do you preserve culture when your team is growing?

In order to preserve something, you have to have a good idea of what it is. As we mentioned earlier, your existing team members are well-placed to be your company culture champions. Work with them to define what core principles sit at the heart of your team’s motivation, inspiration, and attitudes to each other.

It’s completely natural for team dynamics to evolve, especially as the team is growing. But fundamental value-principles such as transparency and high standards can, and should, remain in place through change.

At the same time, be wary of trying too hard to ossify culture. You just need to make sure that it’s developing in a positive trajectory: maintaining the best of what’s good, and embracing what new people can bring to the table. The best results come from hiring people who bring their own unique contribution, while also being excited to see how this sits within the wider team culture:

“Instead of hiring for ‘culture fit’, companies should focus on ‘culture contribution’,” Advises Nathan Christensen, CEO of Mineral, “The goal is to hire people who will help build the culture you want in two to five years, not simply the one you have today.”

If your team has been small and unchanging for a while, it might take some time for the new hires to establish the same level of trust that current team members have with each other. But there are exercises you can do to help build trust.

For example, the classic management book “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team” has some great pointers on building trust in a team that might be feeling its absence (and we happen to have a convenient summary of “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team” right here…)

Wrap-Up

As we've seen, managing growing teams requires a diverse range of leadership skills and management strategies. To cover all bases, you’ve got to be comfortable with a wide spectrum of skills, from analyzing hard data and forecasting hiring needs, to influencing intangible team dynamics.

It’s a lot. But team growth can be a controlled, intentional process rather than hasty hiring and onboarding. It just takes adequate planning - which requires adequate time. 

If you can forecast your hiring needs accurately, you can give yourself the time you need to do things properly. And in the long run, the entire team stands to benefit from this more managed approach.

Set your new employees up for success from day one, and give your existing team members the chance to embrace opportunities, develop skills, and champion the values that make your team amazing.

Interested to see how Runn’s clever capacity management features can help you predict when to hire new people? Our team will be happy to show you how it’s done with a short, bespoke demo to suit your needs.

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