Twice as nice.

Until about a year ago, I led a team of six. I have always had a personal and inclusive approach to leadership and supervision. People only hinted at this but I’m pretty sure there were some who thought that my leadership style only worked because I had a small team. For me, leadership had come to mean team decision making, collective goal setting, and valuing equally the needs of the organization and the needs of seven individuals. Over time, I shaped and molded the group of seven into a cohesive, high functioning, and enthusiastic whole. We all liked our jobs and that translated into exceptional work.

Weeks before it was official, I knew my team would double when we established the Office of Creative Services. Planning for a team double in size, I thought a lot about my personal philosophy on leadership and worried quite a bit about how I might need to change my style to be successful in my new role. I wondered if many of the strategies I had used to motivate and reward people on my team would be feasible when applied to a team twice the size.

I decided not to change my style. So even though there are 12 instead of 7, I’ve continued my practice of complete flexibility on work hours (I refuse to care when you come in and when you leave). I still spend my own money on food – pizza, ice cream, sandwiches (bringing us together for meals and celebration demonstrates that I value and appreciate the individuals that make up the team as well as their hard work). I continue to allocate a lot of time to positive feedback, internal communication, and a shared understanding of goals and priorities. I still think cross-functional project teams are the most effective way to develop the skills and talents of those on my team (I want people to pick projects they like and work on teams to learn new stuff). In general, it’s twice as nice.

Although my leadership style remains in tact, a team of 12 cannot operate like a team of 7. Here’s how it’s worked out so far:

We’re a bright group so we quickly realized that 12 people making a decision was different than 7 making a decision. So instead of starting from scratch with a full team discussion on every decision to be made, we often designate a handful of us to come up with a proposal. Then, later, the full team can review, discuss, and decide based on concrete options presented by the smaller group.

Several months into our first year, I asked the team to respond anonymously to a questionnaire about internal communication. We discussed the results as a team and I provided a printed list of the methods and tools in place for a high level of communication between us. (Yes, it is true; I insist that the team “play” on Facebook, Twitter, and Chat to keep in touch.) Bottom line? Everyone on our team knows that they have a personal responsibility to stay informed. You’ll find more about this in another post I wrote – Here’s what I have to say about internal communication.

In a perfect world, all 12 of us would be in one office space. We are not. We love our little white houses on Jamestown Road but when you yell down the hall, the people in the other house don’t hear you. We’ve done some things to our spaces to respond to the disadvantages of a team split between two locations. The smaller house has more gathering space so team meetings, celebrations, pot lucks, etc. are normally held there. (This prevents five on the team from always walking over to visit the other seven.) I have officially stated that walking over to just hang out or talk with someone in the other house is a good idea.

Project Management.
We’ve used Fogbugz for years as a request and support tracking system, and we find it works as well for 12 as it did for six. We also started using Feng Office for managing more than twice as many projects. Feng is great for the collaborative nature of our work and it means we can effectively track tasks, resources, milestones, and deadlines. Feng, we love you and we hate you.

I avoid hierarchy at every turn. So, for a long time, I resisted the idea of putting a management structure in place. I’m glad I waited because I needed the first nine months to bring two teams together and orchestrate a transition that ended with a cohesive, albeit larger, team. By late summer, I knew that 1) I was becoming a bottle neck for decisions and 2) I couldn’t supervise 11 and still have time for the strategic thinking and planning needed for my new role. I now have three associate directors – aahhh, definitely the right way to go.

Over the last year, I regularly reminded myself and everyone else on the team that we were in a state of transition. When I felt stressed by all the newness, I said so. If it looked like someone on the team was withdrawing or responding differently, I talked with them directly and quickly about what was going on. I think that talking out loud about the pros and cons of our transition reduced anxiety and made us all more patient as time passed, things got figured out, and we settled into a new equilibrium.

It takes a village.
I take leadership seriously. I’m naturally good at it but I make mistakes. Nearly every day, I remind myself that the people on my team need and deserve careful, mature, and enthusiastic direction from me. Nearly every hour, I am reminded that I need them for their skills, their commitment, their intellect, and their willingness to leap into what’s coming next.


Author: susantevans

Susan T. Evans is director of corporate and foundations relations at the College of William & Mary. She is a proven strategic leader with deep expertise in advancement, communications, brand management, marketing, digital strategy, technology, administration and organizational development. She is known for creative and strategic approaches to challenges within higher education, nonprofits and business.

One thought on “Twice as nice.”

  1. Sorry it took me a bit to get back. I had a person in for an out of town interview. But once again, spot on. I have been questioning my style I’m admittedly very informal leader I never really rule with veto power I always try to make all decisions by us having an open dialog. Already as the work load is growing I am starting to feel I am the bottle neck. I think this is do to the fact that my previous position was as the worker bee aka front end designer and I excelled at that position so it is hard for me to step back and let people do things their way. On project management tools we have jumped around almost every tool you can imagine. Non the less I am really excited we are fired up and like you said it just takes patience we are all talented and we will make it happen with time.

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