As a leader, getting to the point of having a large team – and effectively leading it – is like going from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond. The approaches that used to work with a small team no longer cut it.
“Growing a large team will alter how the team is currently interacting. Smaller teams know each other and collaborate well. Scaling a team changes this dynamic. There will be a greater need for structure, clear job responsibilities and individual deliverables,” according to Jana Tulloch, HR expert and Principal Consultant at Tulloch Consulting.
Hiring practices are also a crucial piece of the puzzle. “Growing a large team doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s important to understand that the focus on growing a large team shouldn’t undermine quality standards. Hiring is still a very detailed and time-consuming process both for employers and candidates, and leaders would do well understanding that a large team is built by focusing on each and every hire,” adds Gino Ferrand, CEO and Founder of TECLA.
According to him, any mistakes you make in the hiring process will surface when you have to manage your team, which is why every hire matters. “To succeed in managing a large team, especially in today’s highly distributed model of work, you must have the right tools in place, and the right lines of communication always open between team members,” he says.
Here are eight tips for growing and managing a large team, based on insights from HR and management experts who know what it takes to scale.
1. Understand and optimize strengths and weaknesses
Even with a small team, you need to understand the strengths, weaknesses and work style of each team player. This still matters with a large one, with the added complexity of optimizing the big picture.
“You must understand this about each person, and understand what will happen when any combination of people, with their specific drives and motivations, get together. In other words, leaders need to understand team types. It’s not just about managing people on the team, it’s also about managing the team as a unique organism, says Barry Shulman, Principal at Shulman Associates.
2. Step up your recruiting game
It’s a competitive job market, and you won’t be able to successfully grow and manage a large team without stepping up your recruiting game. Job descriptions are more important than ever, says Ferrand: “Candidates are reading into them much more than ever before, and if you are not putting in the right amount of effort to make your job description stand out in the multitude of today’s job openings, you are going to struggle to grow the team fast.”
You also can’t solely rely on inbound applications. “Active sourcing and outreach is the main way that companies grow large teams. If you are just waiting for inbound candidates and you don’t have an established employer brand, you are going to struggle,” says Ferrand. Invest efforts in outreach strategies for recruiting while focusing on marketing your brand as an employer.
3. Focus on retention
Retention is also key. Once you get the right team members on board, which takes time, money and effort, you’ll want to keep them and combat turnover.
“Focusing on retention is key today if you want to be able to always be net positive when it comes to hiring and having a large team stay at the company for a while. Make sure that employees are getting all the feedback they need from their managers and have a way to bond with other team members, even if you are working remotely,” adds Ferrand.
4. Adapt the roles and responsibilities of leaders
It’s important to acknowledge that the roles and responsibilities of leaders need to evolve with the size of the team.
“The larger a team grows, the more impersonal things can become. Leaders are all about keeping things aligned and moving forward. This becomes more difficult when there are more individuals who need support, direction, and feedback,” says Tulloch. “Leaders need to recognize that how they manage will change significantly the larger the team gets. The current way you work with your small team will be eroded simply by the need to include and communicate with a much larger group.”
According to her, you need to prepare leaders to delegate more and spend an increased amount of their time on keeping team members aligned and engaged. And a dedicated HR department is no longer a luxury at this point. “As the team grows, so will the administrative and HR burden. Make sure you have a strong HR and People team in place so that the burden isn’t put on other managers on the team whose time is better spent elsewhere,” says Ferrand.
5. Involve your team in the hiring process
“When possible it’s always great to have existing team members participate in the hiring process. It helps build relationships early on in the hiring process,” recommends Tulloch. Communicate with your existing team about which positions are open and why they need to be filled and provide context about your growth targets, she adds. This will help the team recognize the need for additional help and support the hiring process.
You’ll also want to provide team members with resources to know what kind of candidate to look for during the hiring process. “They should have systems to identify what makes someone successful at the company and on their team,” says Doogie Levine, Principal Consultant for IAS Business Coaching and Consulting.
6. Create standard operating procedures
According to Levine, who provides fractional COO services to organizations through his consultancy, you’ll need standard operating procedures for recruiting, hiring, onboarding, initial training, and the core responsibilities of each position.
“You want to get to a good level. You should have a customer journey map, employee journey map, process maps for product/service, and a company handbook that speaks to how you want people to behave. If you have this, you can build a large, highly efficient team,” he says.
7. Build communication and feedback loops
As Tulloch puts it, “communication, communication, communication.” It’s one of the most important pillars of building a large team without spiraling into chaos.
“Keep everyone in the loop regarding organizational goals and departmental goals, and quickly correct misaligned activities or behaviors. Revisiting the team structure is key to maintaining effective management – focusing on the right people-to-manager ratio is an important part of keeping operations running smoothly,” she says.
“Regular check-ins should become a habit: How is the team doing? What challenges are they having? How can managers better support them? Promoting open communication and exchanging feedback regularly is a habit all managers should have, and, with a large team, it is even more critical.”
8. Use data
Finally, Shulman stresses the importance of using data to inform your decisions. “Data and analytics rule when you’re building a team. Without data, you’re just guessing. It’s 2022 and there are several workplace assessment tools on the market that provide accurate data to hiring managers and management teams,” he says. “The data is easy to get, fast, inexpensive, insightful and informs all team-building decisions. Isn’t it interesting how companies have a business strategy, a financial strategy but not a team building/talent strategy?”
Time to get smart about gathering insights that will fuel your strategy for growing your team.