Managing a Small Team of Employees


Managing a Small Team of Employees

2 minute read

Creating motivation and dealing with issues amongst a small team can present some unique challenges

Managing a small number of staff in a farming operation can often present challenges not faced by a larger business. Maintaining motivation amongst employees and ensuring they are working towards a common goal can be quite a challenge. Confrontation is especially difficult amongst a small group and paradoxically a team of limited numbers do not always communicate well. Corporate style management can make everyone uncomfortable and may simply not suit. Issues both big and small can arise and are often left unresolved.

In many cases, problems can develop when there is a small number because the perception of staff is that the relationship is casual and informal. It is often assumed that to address these issues, one of two approaches is required – either adopt a more aggressive, disciplinary management style or do the opposite and try to instil a ‘one big family’, friendly approach. The truth is that neither of these approaches will achieve any significant change in staff behaviour and attitude.

A fundamental shift in behaviour and attitude requires a more systematic approach. Firstly, there has to be a single reference point by which staff have an unambiguous understanding of their duties and accountabilities. Similarly, the same single reference point must be used by the manager to assess the employee’s performance and hold them accountable for their actions. This reference point is the Business Procedures and Policies Manual.

This manual not only defines the way work is performed for various tasks it also details the company policies for appropriate conduct. Further, it provides an unarguable reference point for any disputes or disciplinary action.

It is important that the staff members play a role in designing and preparing the procedures and policies contained in the manual and they agree with those procedures and policies.

From the staff member’s point of view, the Procedures and Policy Manual can provide a clear understanding of their duties and accountabilities and, by actively involving them in its drafting, there is an opportunity for them to contribute and develop a sense of ownership and accountability for what they are required to undertake.

From the manager’s point of view, it allows an independent reference point rather than just personal opinion when discussing staff performance issues. This allows a manager to discuss performance issues in a non-emotional, objective way by referencing the procedures and policies that the employee has also played a role in developing.

One of the common criticisms of developing a Procedures and Policies Manual is that they tend to lose significance over time. To prevent this, three things need to happen:
Firstly, practical day-to-day operations need to be supplemented with management and monitoring capabilities that reflect the intent of the manual. For example, cloud-based apps built for devices such as smart phones and tablets can be used for work delegation, time recording, safety audits, job instructions etc. They provide a practical means of facilitating and monitoring compliance with the manual. They also allow the staff to provide constructive work-based feedback on any difficulties they may be encountering with the delegated work. In recent times these apps have become easier to develop, reliable and an affordable way to manage staff remotely.

Secondly, staff performance appraisals should always be referenced back to their level of compliance with the company’s Procedures and Policies Manual. These appraisals should be no less often than quarterly, however during a transition to this concept, monthly appraisals may be more appropriate.

Thirdly, the manner in which work instructions are provided and how staff are held accountable to those instructions requires a very specific management approach. For example, when work is delegated, the staff should feel comfortable that they can challenge the method and expectations for delivery with the manager and ‘negotiate’ a reasonable outcome that all parties agree to. However, from that point onwards, the staff should have a clear understanding that they have agreed with the expectations and that failure to meet these is a serious breach of their employment obligations. If any unforeseen events arise that prevent them from achieving the agreed results, these must be reported and discussed with management immediately. Failure to do so, such as offering excuses after the due time for work completion, again, is a serious breach of their employment obligations.

In a small team every individual is a key person. If you are having staff problems or simply want to make management more effective and bring out the best in your team it may be worthwhile obtaining outside expertise to put you on the right path.