How To Manage A Team That Keeps Growing

Athletics carrying a crew canoe over heads | Credit: Clerkenwell

I was contacted by a freelance writer working on a blog post for the project management platform, Wrike, for my thoughts about how you manage a team that keeps growing.

Question: What are some notable differences between leaders of small teams (let’s say 10 people and under) and leaders of large teams (100 people and over)? I’m sure there are numerous differences in the way they should communicate, delegate, etc. when managing a small team compared to a large one.

Answer: I will answer this in three parts.

First, generally, effective teams have less than 9 members (West, 2008). For leaders of “large teams,” I would argue that those top leaders, in fact, manage several other subordinate people leaders (who report up to them) who lead smaller teams, and within those teams, there are people leaders who report to them and so on. When we say that a leader is leading a “large team” of 100 employees or more, that one leader actually leads a handful of subordinate leaders, who then lead other subordinate leaders. Thus, one could argue that a CEO does not directly lead 1000 employees. Instead s/he is leading a team of executive vice presidents and senior vice presidents, and those EVPs & SVPs lead several vice presidents (VPs), who then lead a team of directors, who then have managers reporting to them.

Second, there is an important distinction between leading a team versus supervising a team. Leading a team is different from supervising one. Supervisors tend to be directive and advice-giving. A leader of a team, on the other hand, is more facilitative and seeking.

Third, when leading or supervising a team, there are several key things to keep in mind:

  1. The team must have a purpose and tasks. “The only point of having a team is to get a job done, a task completed, a set of objectives met. Moreover, the tasks that teams perform should be tasks that are best performed by a team” (West, 2008, p. 308).
  2. Make sure that there aren’t too many members or the wrong members. “Teams should be as small as possible to get the job done and no larger than about 6 to 8 people” (West, 2008, p. 308). It’s also crucial that “teams have the members with the skills they need to get the job done” (West, 2008, p. 308).
  3. Team processes are developed. Teams need to have clear objectives, meet regularly, participate in constructive debate about how to best serve client needs, share information with one another, coordinate their work, support each other, and review their performance and think about ways to improve it (West, 2008).
  4. Most of all, walk the talk. Make sure that your words and actions are consistent and you’re not saying one thing and doing something else.

“It turns out that the believability of the leader determines whether people will willingly give more of their time, talent, energy, experience, intelligence, creativity and support. Only credible leaders earn commitment, and only commitment builds and regenerates great organizations and communities.” -Kouzes and Posner, The Truth About Leadership

Question: While team growth is a positive indicator for the business, existing/core team members can often be resistant to change the dynamic. Do you have any tips for how you can continue to grow the team without causing too much friction?

Answer: Any time change is required, expect disruption and resistance. To help a team adapt and stick to this change (i.e., adding new members), make sure (Hill, 2009): (1) They believe the change makes sense and that it’s the right course of action (that growing the team is the right thing to do), (2) The person leading the change has the respect of the team; (3) They understand and prepare for new opportunities and challenges that come from the change (of growing the team); and (4) They were involved in planning and implementing the change effort.

Question: Do you have any tips for maintaining team culture even as new members are continuously added?

Answer: Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn (2005) offered some helpful tips to be mindful of in striving to maintain a strong team and organization-wide culture:

  • A widely shared real understanding of what the firm stands for, often embodied in slogans
  • A concern for individuals over rules, policies, procedures, and adherence to job duties
  • A recognition of heroes whose actions illustrate the company’s shared philosophy and concerns
  • A belief in ritual and ceremony as important to members and to building a common identity
  • A well-understood sense of the informal rules and expectations so that employees and managers understand what is expected of them
  • A belief that what employees and managers do is important and that it is important to share information and ideas

Question: Any other anecdotes, statistics, or information to share?

Answer: In “The Leadership Challenge,” Kouzes and Posner (2012) said that leaders practice what they preach. Leaders model the way through their actions and they live by the values they claim.

In a meeting, an executive talked about the qualities necessary to be an effective team member. What was so ridiculous was that the executive did not possess many of these qualities and employees in the department knew that this executive was struggling to meet even the most basic ones on that list. Every person in that meeting knew it, except the executive. After the meeting ended, employees sat around discussing the absurdity of the list and the apparent contradiction between the executive extolling those same virtues that she clearly lacked. What bothered them most was that the executive expected everyone to live up to these values, but she herself struggled to attain even the simplest ones. The hypocrisy of demanding excellence of others when she herself did not have some of that same excellence was what angered the staff most.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor & Talent Development Consultant

References

Hill, L. A. (2009). Managing change: Pocket mentor. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The Leadership Challenge (5th Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2010). The Truth About Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Schermerhorn, J.R., Hunt, J.G., & Osborn, R.N. (2005). Organizational Behavior (9th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

West, M. A. (2008). Effective teams in organizations. In N. Chmiel (Ed.), An introduction to work and organizational psychology: A European perspective (2nd ed; pp. 305-328). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.