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Expert Advice: How to create a winning team for your start up or small business

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As your business grows, building a team is essential. For entrepreneurs, startups and smaller businesses, you may not have millions of dollars to spend on recruitment. For larger companies, the challenge is more about bringing innovation to established teams, and fostering change in culture and processes.

The newsDesk met with team building expert, Stuart Harris. Stuart is co-founder of leading regional event-based training provider, TeamBuilding Asia. Check out his advice to help you create a winning team of people who share your vision and company culture.

Stuart Harris is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Team Building Asia. “We’ve been running our company for 15 years. It’s been a journey full of ups and downs,” says Stuart. “Success can depend on the people you have with you at the time.”

From the headquarters in Hong Kong and offices in Shanghai and Singapore, Stuart and his team work across the region to deliver experiential teambuilding events and activities. “Many of our events are designed for companies holding a conference, an event or a large group meeting,” he tells us. “We go in and run teambuilding activities as part of the event.”

“We tailor our programmes to the goals that the company is trying to achieve,” he continues. And with over 180 events a year, for clients like Google, Adidas, AIA and HSBC, it’s easy to see that Stuart has his finger on the pulse when it comes to what matters most when creating a cohesive and well-focused team.

His company works in many sectors, from IT to banking, consumer goods to pharmaceuticals. “We’re part of a global network,” he tells me, “And we’re the sole provider of these experiential training events in Hong Kong and Mainland China.”

theDesk is an attractive choice for entrepreneurs, mumpreneurs and businesses of all sizes. They enjoy the flexibility, services and inclusive community that our shared workspaces offer. One concern that our members frequently voice is how to go about building a strong team that can help them achieve their business objectives and who share their beliefs and company culture. We asked Stuart to share some of his insider knowledge with our community and neighbourhood.

“Take time to carefully consider how you want your company to grow. And not only in the short term. Think about what it’s going to look like in 3 years, 5 years and longer.”

Discover theDesk: Seven reasons why you’ll love working at theDesk Leighton Centre

Prepare and have a clear structure

“I always recommend that entrepreneurs and business owners use a robust methodology. For example, Gazelles, created by Verne Harnish,” he says. “The method focuses on aligning the whole team towards your core goals. It has become popular because it targets companies who need support to scale up their business.”

Aligning the team is something that is particularly relevant to the many business owners at theDesk who want to move out of startup mode and begin to establish themselves as industry-leading companies

“There’s a book that I highly recommend theDesk community. It’s called ‘The Emyth’,” he says. This successful business guide explores the reasons why many small businesses don’t work.

The author concludes that businesses are often run by a ‘Technician’, someone who knows how to do the technical work involved in a job but who may neglect the all-important roles of the ‘Entrepreneur’ and the ‘Manager’.

Stuart’s advice is to do your background reading and prepare well. “Both of these resources can help you structure your business and think carefully about what you want to achieve.”

Share your value and vision

“For me, establishing your company values is key. It’s something I wish I’d known more about 15 years ago,” he laughs. When you’re putting your team together, your people need to buy into those values and feel a sense of ownership towards the company culture.”

In the early stages of growing your business, you’ll probably need people to cover more than one role. For this stage, Stuart emphasises the need to have a clear vision, even if one or two people are filling all the seats.

“Take time to consider how you want your company to grow,” he advises. “And not only in the short term. Think about what it’s going to look like in three years, five years and longer.”

From experience, Stuart understands that clear job roles and responsibilities are crucial aspects. “That includes the owners,” he says, only half joking. “More than current role requirements, your team members need a clear vision of how they can move up through the company over time.”

Be informed: Business briefing: Workplace trends to watch in 2018

Define your business culture

Stuart places a lot of emphasis on establishing your business culture. “We did some work recently on our values. One thing that’s important for many companies and us is open communication. Managers – no matter a small or large business – need to be approachable and not shut themselves away. I recommend you make yourself accessible to your team.”

In co-working spaces, it’s a little easier. Our workspaces are designed to foster interaction. For larger companies, it can mean making significant changes in the office culture to create a more open environment.

“Regarding our own culture,” he tells me, “We have a meeting every morning. It’s a daily huddle. Everyone comes together. We quickly share our good news, briefly say what we achieved yesterday and what we are going to focus on today. We look at sales numbers, details, and try to resolve any issues.”

“The days of doing an annual review are passing. If you do an annual evaluation in, say, April, who can remember the previous May?”

The term Stuart uses is ‘stucks’. “These are issues that people need to discuss and resolve because until we do, they are stuck. The daily huddles are the ideal platform for solving those. Ideally, during the time of the meeting.”

Another aspect of Stuart’s company culture is how they deal with staff appraisals. “The days of doing an annual review are passing,” he tells me. “If you do an annual evaluation in, say, April, who can remember the previous May?”

How does he manage team reviews? “We deal with things as they come up. We also have quarterly review meetings. It’s important to make sure people are clear on their KPIs.” In Stuart’s experience, these regular meetings help people achieve their targets. It also assures people they are on track and gives them a platform to communicate where they need help in the following weeks.

Profiles, interviews and onboarding

Finding people isn’t very difficult. But finding the right people can be a challenge. ‘We have great success through LinkedIn,” Stuart tells me. “Either organically or using advertising.  For a small fee, we can find and target people with the profile we are looking for. It’s a worthwhile investment.”

Stuart’s company use a variety of tools to help them with this task. “We use a profiling tool called the Harrison Assessment Tool. It’s powerful for us because it profiles possible candidates for their eligibility – the skills and experiences we need. And also their suitability for the role – meaning their motivation, personality, interpersonal skills, etc.”

Read more:   How to create the best co-working and events space in Hong Kong

Stuart emphasises how important job profiling is to help identify and evaluate candidates. After the screening, you’ll want to interview the candidates. “We conduct phone interviews, and we do one or two face-to-face interviews. We want to make sure the person understands our company culture, how our business works and what the accountabilities are.”

One point Stuart stresses emphatically is doing reference checks. “Many smaller companies fear to do this,” he tells me. “We always conduct checks with at least a few referees.”

Beyond these important issues, Stuart also highlights the need to plan your onboarding process. “At our company, the process lasts two to three weeks. New joiners need to get a good understanding of the company and their role within it. They need to understand their KPIs to be efficient and accountable.”

Stuart’s onboarding schedule makes sure that new team members can buddy up with a colleague, who can support and guide them as they find their feet. “Having a clear probation period is also important,” he adds. “In that time, we can both decide if they are the right fit for the team.”

After all, we work with humans. No amount of profiling and preparation can avoid issues from time to time. “By the time we’ve gone through our process, we usually have a good success rate,” he says.

“We’ve got all the technology we need. But until you get people together for face-to-face interactions, you’re not really bringing the team together.”

Changing with the times

Stuart began his company in 2002. It seems crazy, but back then there was no YouTube, no smartphones, no iPads. In the past 15 years, technology has changed the way we collaborate and interact. “Now, there’s more need for people to have face-to-face catch ups,” Stuart says.

“We’ve got all the technology we need, but until you get people together for face-to-face interactions, dinners, entertaining, you’re not bringing the team together.” This is something that many of us can appreciate. We work online in dispersed teams. We meet through video conferencing, messaging and emails.

“It’s why experiential teambuilding is becoming more and more important for companies. We’ve introduced many new activities into our events that have a digital component. For example, we run an activity called Peak Performance. Participants work together to try and conquer Mount Everest!”

The activity allows participants to experience the way that working together as a whole team leads to bigger outcomes. “We integrate iPads now with features like digital treasure hunts and live scoring. It’s also important for participants to have clear objectives and discussions points as takeaways,” he adds.

Taking the advice

Talking with Stuart, it’s easy to recognise that his advice is grounded in real life experience from across the region. From defining your goals, company values and culture you can more easily profile potential candidates.

The interview and onboarding process can then align to your higher level objectives. Regular face-to-face interaction is also critical so that the team can bond. Regular, ongoing reviews are a valuable tool for keeping everyone on the same page.

It’s not easy to recruit and build the perfect team. Each of us needs to reflect on what we want to achieve for our unique businesses. Listening and learning from experts like Stuart can help us establish criteria which are the foundation of creating a winning team.

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