When building a company, there comes a point where your business has to be able to scale beyond yourself. A chief component of growing a business is putting together a team that can do the work in the business, so you as a leader have time to work on the business. This means assembling a team of people you can trust and rely on, who take interest in and have a passion for the goals, mission, and vision of the company. Without the right team at your side, your organization will only ever be as big as what you alone can accomplish.
"If you want to take your business to the next level, you have to invest in your team. They aren’t just part of your company—they are your company!"
There’s no single trick to building a successful company; there are so many moving parts that all have to come together, but having the right team at your side is the most important piece of the puzzle. Establishing and empowering a winning team was paramount to taking my company out of an NYU dorm room and into 100 cities worldwide. Without the ability to grow beyond myself and trust in my team, the business I started would have never left that dorm room. Starting and growing a business is a crash course in hiring and team building, and I’ve learned a lot over the years about what it takes to cultivate a team that will help your business succeed. So you can believe me when I tell you, if you want to take your business to the next level, you have to invest in your team. They aren’t just part of your company—they are your company! With that in mind, here’s what I’ve discovered.
Cultivate an ownership mindset.
Fostering a sense of ownership at every level and with every individual in your company is the difference between teams that stagnate and teams that flourish. Make ownership a core value—not just for yourself, company leadership, and management—but throughout your company, from interns and junior sales associates to freelancers and creatives. To accomplish this, you must give your employees the tools, trust, and support they need to really do their best work. This means respecting what they do, valuing their perspective, listening to their ideas, and really rewarding hard work and passion.
Instilling a sense of ownership in your culture comes down to incentivizing your team to approach their work as if they owned the company, and recognizing and rewarding them when they do. For example, I often made promotions based on the ideas an employee brought forth. In fact, bringing in new ideas was a requirement for higher level promotions. I did this because creating a culture of ownership not only supports individual and group success, but it sets your company up for success as well.
Listen to your team.
Listening to your employees’ perspectives and ideas is critical to fostering a sense of ownership throughout the company—so much so, that it’s worth highlighting on its own. If you want to build a company that is wildly successful, you must create an environment in which your team not only feels comfortable, but is actively encouraged and rewarded for sharing their ideas and perspectives. Doing this not only cultivates a healthier workplace environment—in which employees feel valued, heard, and respected—but it also creates a more competitive, more robust, and more successful company.
Think about it, your team is doing the on-the-ground work day in and day out. They’re talking to clients, they’re navigating internal processes, they’re experiencing roadblocks, pain points, and gaps in your clients’ daily needs, all things you as the owner will likely never see, especially as your company scales. In fact, this is what led me to start my own company in the first place—while working at a translation firm, I saw the myriad ways we weren’t fully meeting our clients’ needs, and I wanted to do better by them. Just imagine how different things might have been if that company had listened and implemented my ideas!
Because of that experience, I always made it a point to source ideas from our employees. To do this, open up ongoing collaborative dialogues by utilizing regular employee surveys, creating channels of communication for idea sharing, taking the time for one-on-one meetings, and having brainstorms where everyone gets the chance to talk (especially junior team members). One place I loved to start was asking employees, “What would you do differently if you owned the company?”
Empower your team.
It’s not enough to simply listen to your employees' ideas, you have to also let them own them. When an employee offers a brilliant idea that you think is worth implementing, let them run with it! If you think they’re ready, reward that employee by putting them in charge of that project (tip: you can also partner them with a more experienced co-leader who can help guide and mentor them). This further incentivizes internal problem solving and ideation, rewards initiative, ensures projects are in the hands of people passionate about seeing them succeed, and gives employees first-hand leadership experience that will in turn set them up to get to the next level in their career. In other words, when the company thrives, everyone who made that possible should thrive as well. Nurturing new leaders is also critical because as you scale the business, you’re going to have to identify and promote employees who—like you—will be working on the business, rather than in the business.
This is a concept I like to refer to as intrapreneurship. It’s about creating a culture of collaboration and an environment that rewards employees for going above and beyond, for being curious and thinking outside the box, for being problem solvers and leaders, and for contributing to a better service, product, and company. When every member of your team approaches their role feeling empowered and encouraged to really put themselves into their work as if it were their own company, you produce the best results.
If you want to build an industry-leading company, you have to put together an industry-leading team. Every single member of your company is vital to its success. Your employees aren’t just a box to check off or a means to an end—they’re your partners, your collaborators, your company’s advocates and ambassadors. You have to invest in them however much you want them to invest in the success of your company. After all, at the end of the day, if you hire, develop, and retain the best people, they will take you and your company to the top.