It’s most every entrepreneur’s dream: your business is a success, and in a few short years, you’ve gone from being a lone freelancer to managing an ever-growing team of employees. But you soon find that this brings its own challenges. Suddenly, you no longer have the time to get to know everybody in the office personally, and communication is breaking down. You’re hiring new people to keep up with growing demand, but at the same time, it seems like nobody’s working as hard as they used to. The weekly planning meeting comes around, and where everyone used to be brimming with ideas, now your team seems uninspired.
In short, the company you built from the ground up has lost its energy, creativity and agility, everything that helped you get to where you are. But why? And what can you do about it?
Let go of control…
First of all: don’t panic. It’s perfectly normal for a company to change as it grows, and you need to accept that your role as leader will change, too. This is something I’ve learned with my own company, Spacebase. In the early days, when everyone has a personal stake in keeping the company above water, you’re all wearing multiple hats to keep things moving. It’s easy to fill every minute of your working day with essential activities. But once this stage is over, it’s natural for the pace to slacken a little, and you should embrace this. Building some slack into the system makes your company more resilient: If something big comes up, you’ll have the time and energy to deal with it. This is also important to consider in relation to your leadership style. If you try to keep on top of every single project and don’t allow other people on your team to make decisions, then you become the bottleneck. Letting go of some control is essential.
… But still maintain order
That said, not all change is for the better. Analyze the factors that drove your success in the early days, and work out what underlying principles you can apply to your business now.
As an entrepreneur, you have to understand how the entire company works, and you need a highly diverse skill set to keep it running. As you grow, you can afford to hire people who specialize in one particular area, and who may have little interaction with other departments. Although you can’t expect everyone to understand the minutiae of how the business fits together, you can still help your employees see beyond their own role. By setting aside some time every week for each team or department to tell everyone else what they’re up to, you help everyone understand where they fit in. This, in turn, makes for a more integrated, motivated team that is more able to make creative connections.
Make sure growth is what’s best for your company
Another factor that might have helped you at the beginning was the small size of your company.
A recent study found that scientists working in smaller teams are more likely to produce radical, disruptive ideas. This is because it’s easier for small groups to reach a consensus, in order to forge ahead, while larger teams bicker over which way to go.
What lessons can you draw from this?
First, remember that more employees doesn’t always mean better results. Every new addition to the company has the potential to sow discord, so make sure you only hire people who have the right mindset.
Second, consider structuring your company around small, overlapping teams, and give each team a project they can truly own. Not only will this allow your employees’ creativity to flow, it will motivate them: rather than feeling like cogs in the machine, individuals will have clear roles, be held accountable by their teammates, and be able to see the impact of their contributions.
A third factor that no entrepreneur can do without is their personal network. When you were first starting out, your contacts helped you find clients and gave you valuable advice. Everyone from former colleagues to co-working desk neighbors kept you in the loop. As your business grows, however, it can be difficult to maintain the informal networks you relied on.
The best way to keep your finger on the pulse is to put some time and effort into networking and mentoring. Allow these groups to inform you on what’s happening across the industry so you can respond quickly to new developments. And if there’s no existing network you can join? Do what I did, and start one. The extra time and effort will pay dividends, as you build goodwill and establish yourself as an industry leader.
Back to the beginning
As you grow your business, you’ll find that plenty of the lessons you learned starting your business are applicable a second time around. Chances are, if you sit down and look at what originally drove your success, you can find a host of other principles to apply to your business today. Whatever you do, though, don’t let your past or your present weigh you down: to build a company that is truly vital, creative, and agile, you need to think flexibly.