When to Partner and When to Direct

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For you, the small business owner, short-term projects can be excellent opportunities to grow the company while honing your team’s professional skills. However, they can also be nightmarish exercises in stress for you and your staff. Often, they are some combination of the two.

If this challenge was not daunting enough, as the owner of a growing company you will occasionally have to decide between listening to your staff members’ offers of advice in order to direct certain aspects of the project and asserting a more “top-down” approach in which you allocate responsibilities while offering your staff fewer options. Each approach is appropriate at certain times, and you need to know when to implement each.

When to Partner: Allowing your employees to take leadership of a project is an excellent way to build morale among your staff, as it allows employees to exercise their own expertise and abilities. It also sharpens your employees’ decision-making skills, which will make your job as a senior manager much easier in the long run. In an article written for hbr.org, Johnsonville Foods, Inc. CEO Ralph Stayer shares how allowing his employees to take a leadership role helped his company.

Stayer uses the analogy of a flock of geese flying in a wing as a model when designing the best approach to developing an effective team:
“….I {wanted} a “V” of individuals who knew the common goal, took turns leading, and adjusted their structure to the task at hand…. each individual bird is responsible for its own performance.”

A flock of geese will fly in such a manner so that each individual goose is positioned to make the flock fly more efficiently. Johnsonville enacted a number of policies among the different production areas in which production workers, once management had trained them to do so, assumed many human resources responsibilities, including training new hires and firing non-performing team-members.

When to Direct: There are also times when you will have to assert a more dictatorial role in order to ensure that your team meets deadlines and meticulously follow protocol. In an article for CIO.com, business writer Jennifer Lonoff Schiff discusses some of the problems that you will face if you become too passive as the project manager. One dilemma that comes from taking a less managerial stance is that your team loses focus from your absence as a key ‘focus director.’ By defining your project’s scope clearly from the beginning and then overseeing the project throughout, your team members better maintain tunnel vision and avoid inefficiency and delays.

Know the Best Time for Each: When managing projects, there are specific times in which to acquiesce to employee suggestions or to be ‘one of the gang,’ and there are projects which require you to be the strong, central leader or the ‘Big Boss.’

An article found on Appfluence explains that in the spirit of comradery with employees, a good manager will discuss objectives with employees and ask them how their specific strengths and accomplishment will lead to success for the team. Yet, as the owner and manager of a small company, responsibilities ultimately fall on your shoulders, and if you notice slow, inefficient work from your employees, you will likely have to switch gears and take more direct control of the project.

Ian Erickson is the writer for Aepiphanni, a Business Consultancy that provides Management Consulting, Managed, and Implementation Services to business leaders and entrepreneurs seeking to improve or expand operations. Ian Erickson has been advising managers and clients in a wide spectrum of industries on the most effective strategy for years. Ian discusses situations facing small businesses and how to turn challenges into opportunities.

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