Building an Exceptional Team
From near disaster to a well-oiled machine
Sometimes as an owner or manager, you can get leadership wrong; a few years ago, that is exactly what happened to me. My laboratory was growing rapidly, and we were achieving great things, but the stress levels were high—too high. With a desire to grow, I lost my focus, and the team suffered. We were making mistakes, I was getting short with the team, and I probably came as close to a breakdown as one can get. Team members just were not on board with my views and direction, and I could not understand why. I started to feel that my beautiful company, with all it stood for, was slipping through my fingers.
Leading a team of 25-plus people is not easy. At that time, my team members were disengaged and slightly dysfunctional. I felt they could not wait to leave at 5:30 every day, leaving me increasingly frustrated and angry. I spoke to a friend who is a leading HR consultant—let's call him Jim—about my problems and he reassured me that in many companies, the disengagement from the company owner to the employees is common, but if I was prepared to listen and willing to accept radical change, there was a solution.
Jim worked on what he called "The People Project" with a member of my team, Leanne, who started on my operations team as a junior and now, after earning a university degree, manages learning and development. Leanne and Jim started by putting together an amazing survey for all team members, but not allowing me access to it. Everyone completed the survey, and Jim and Leanne interviewed each member of the team for approximately 45 minutes to openly and strictly confidentially talk about the company, the owners, and everything involved in their working day. After a few months, the survey was complete, and my wife and I spent the day offsite with Leanne and Jim to break down the information.
They started with three full pages of negative comments on myself and the company. It was brutal. I had to just sit, listen, and take it all in. While the first hour was hurtful and I took it personally, the next hour was all the positives and I started to see a different view. Our employees had all taken their time to share their views, and the general message was not as negative as I thought, but rather: "We love this company, but things need to change and Ashley needs to change." The full day was broken down into each aspect of the company from my vision meetings through to training and even Christmas holidays. We spent the last few hours working on how I needed to change, and it was not rocket science: Listen more, offer more one-to-one training, share knowledge, make time for each employee, and be clearer in what is desired in innovation. The message was simple; I was lost in my own world and not sharing my view of the company and the future enough. I needed to spend more time with the team, be less negative, and slow down my "Let's take over the world" approach.
The process was incredible and completely changed how the laboratory ran. I needed to be reminded of my changes by the team on a regular basis—and they still remind me now—but by giving more of my time for the team, listening, and behaving professionally when problems arose, I saw a revolution at my laboratory. When a full arch was ruined for whatever reason, there was no blame; we just worked as a team to ensure it would not happen again. I allocated time to do my emails away from the team, and we even set up a "query board," which meant I had time to think and answer each and every person's questions and offer that one-to-one time and training my team craved.
The takeaway for me was that listening to your team via a third party is priceless, and it is something I will continue to do. Ensure everyone has a voice, and if the team is heading wayward, the chances are that your leadership and attitude are responsible, rather than your team.
About the Author
Ashley Byrne is the Managing Director of Byrnes Dental Laboratory in Oxford, United Kingdom.