Back at the start of my career, I joined a growing startup as its first official marketing hire. By the end of my first year, the marketing team was a team of six, which made functioning as a team seemingly effortless. Everyone knew what everyone else was working on, we knew who to turn to for support, and we were our biggest cheerleaders.
Things were really good.
Over the course of the following year, we more than doubled in size. We started having more meetings that resembled standups. Teammates took on more specialized work. Loose processes and workflows became formalized. The late nights together increasingly felt less intimate. But, operationally, our team was in a very good place.
In my third year new leaders joined our team with fresh ideas. Our established processes were pushed to their limits. We found less time to connect with our new colleagues. We couldn’t quickly pick up a teammate’s work and carry it across the finish line because we no longer held the knowledge and context required.
Back then, I didn’t spend much time thinking about how we could’ve worked better together. Today, thinking about how growing teams can maintain that small-team feeling is something I think about almost daily. That’s why I’m sharing some insights on why a small-team feeling—a state of being—is important, and how you can create it for a large team.
Why strive for an intimate, small-team feeling?
Growth is good. If your team is already large—or increasingly growing larger—this indicates that you’ve seen success. However, it’s important you ensure that people continue to be aligned with the goals and vision of your team and company. When you have that alignment and the team holds on to that “we’re all in this together” mentality, achieving and maintaining high levels of engagement come naturally.
This also leads to greater accountability. Team members not only know how their work rolls up to the company’s top-level objectives but can see how their contributions make an impact. This empowers people to take greater ownership of their work. With that clarity and context, teams also see increased levels of productivity.
When you’re smaller, the connections and bonds that make teams strong form naturally. Getting to know your teammates is much easier, and you learn about your colleagues as people, not just coworkers. You get personal stories and history. With that, it makes it easier to trust who you’re working with. You can have healthy conflict about work and leave those disagreements behind when the discussion ends. Without this trust, you can’t have the open conversations necessary to drive innovation and success.
How to create that small-team feeling as you growing
1. Keep your values by documenting them
As your team grows, it becomes more important than ever to invest in culture. Yes, there are more of you now, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon what made you special and unique. Rather, you should find ways to help scale what makes you unique as you grow.
This takes much more than hosting a few sporadic team activities or a company retreat once a year. Instead, you should build your values into your processes and make sure those values are documented.
For example, a small team may have a culture of recognition and gratitude that’s assumed by all team members. It’s not written down. As that team grows, it will need to be more deliberate about making sure new hires are aware of, aligned with, and understand the importance of recognition.
Not only should you document your values so they can be easily shared, but you should also find ways to bring them to life. You might build a recognition program around your values, allowing team members to acknowledge and reward each other based on their demonstration of values.
2. Educate new leaders on your culture
When you’re very small, each new hire brings something different to the team. Each new hire moves you closer and closer to a more clearly defined team culture. But ultimately that culture is still heavily influenced by a small group of leaders (often founders).
Your culture will be stretched as your team grows. It will evolve, and that’s okay.
As you grow, you’ll want to maintain the spirit of your team. You’ll want to make sure that when new people are brought on, they’re adding to the culture. However, as you scale, people become further removed from core leaders and new ones step in. This is why it’s essential to educate new leaders on the values and culture of your team when they join.
How a new manager led their team at a previous company should be different from how they lead a team at your company. Different company cultures require different leadership styles. Manage for that by educating and training new leaders in the ways of your team so that they can function as stewards of your culture.
3. Establish regular and healthy communication habits
When you’re a very small team, communicating is simple. Your work often has a direct effect on teammates, you know what information and context they need, and you know how best to communicate with one another.
We lose the ability to so effortlessly communicate as our team scales. Increasingly, quick and simple questions become mildly irritating interruptions that pull us away from work.
For that reason, establishing regular, healthy communication habits—a cadence for communication—is key. Start by writing down and sharing how you communicate with your team today, or a time when you thought your team was a little better at it.
What works for your team will naturally change as you grow. Helping new members understand what communication habits work best is a great way to keep people in informed, engaged, and better connected.
4. Build consistent processes that encourage teamwork
Each team has their own personality and their own way of doing things. It’s important to recognize that and build consistent processes that empower great teamwork.
Process, at its core, is about bringing structure to how a team or company approaches work.
On very small teams, there often aren’t many formalized processes. These teams are moving quickly and just getting things done. But as they grow, processes become much more important. Technology can help spark the development of new processes and work habits. Technology can also infuse a bit of flexible structure to help stabilize teams grappling with growing pains.
Helping teams work better together is why we created Range. Whether you’re looking to jump from standups to written updates, bring more structure to meetings, or better track goals and objectives, we’re focused on helping teams establish better processes that hold up against the test of scale.
5. Create a culture of gratitude and recognition
Creating a culture of gratitude and recognition helps build trust, engagement, and accountability. That’s true no matter the size of the team.
When teammates are told they’re doing a good job, they’re more willing to take on greater responsibility.
When a peer or manager shares that they’re happy with our work, they let us know that we are trusted. That feeling of trust makes us feel empowered. That’s why a simple “thank you” can go a long way.
Gratitude and recognition should be shared in person, and it can happen casually. But it should also be built into what you do—how your team functions. The tools you use should make it easier to not only say “thank you” or “great job,” but also to make sure the whole team or company is aware of the great work and support team members are doing to contribute to shared goals.
Stay connected, no matter your size
At Range, we think a lot about how teams can better collaborate in the workplace, no matter their size. We’ve found that a small-team feeling leads to more connected and engaged team members, better alignment, and better overall productivity.
Whether you’re part of a large team or expect your small team to grow soon, it’s beneficial to prioritize an intimate, small-team feeling. No one wants to feel that they’re just a number or a cog in a wheel. People want to feel connected, empowered, and productive. If you want to keep your team aligned, maintain a feeling of community as you scale.