My Secret to Growing a Web Software Company
Creating Employee Leaders for When You are Gone
If you are a self-aware entrepreneur, then you most likely recognize your tendency to be a detail-oriented perfectionist when it comes to the quality of work in your business. After all, this is the trait that got you started. You are a self-motivated individual intent on good results in a growing business.
What if I told you the secret to growing your business even further is to leave it?
This suggestion may go against your grain entirely, but I still stand by this theory as a fellow obsessive self-starter in the IT world.
Here is my theory.
Recently, I sat down to drink coffee with another web company owner (named Chad) who had multiple offices in the US, as well as in the Philippines. We discussed the common experiences of how our companies started small and then grew beyond our expectations. Today we both have multiple offices and work remotely with teams, often leaving for months at a time to either travel or do business in other countries. Chad told me he felt like his time away actually was one of the things that helped his company grow. When he travelled to support the start of an orphanage in Africa, he saw a substantial amount of growth in his team. His absence forced the team to run the show.
Similarly, my experience has been when I leave my offices in India for three to four months at a time (when I travel to the USA for the summer) the leadership rises up and the team pulls together. This is a great way to make leaders; just leave them holding the steering wheel and let them drive.
Being an entrepreneur it is easy to insert yourself into all aspects of team projects and it can be hard to hand over the reigns for fear that the project will go awry without you. Yet, the opposite builds a company. I work long hours with my team and tend to get into the details to ensure they deliver excellence, but being a micromanager is the worst thing I can do to build a business. Bottom line: Mentor your team, and then leave them.
Physically leave. Go offline. Be absent for two weeks at the minimum, to start. Work toward the goal of leaving your team for an entire month at a time, that way the team works together on a full-month cycle. Let them make mistakes and correct errors on their own. This is how they will become mature and confident in their decisions. Go on extended breaks without communication so that when you come back, you’ll see the gaps. Then you, as a leader, can focus on those gaps.
Now this does not mean that I walk out the door at the beginning of a busy week for an extended vacation, leaving the team to fend for themselves. I focus on key concerns prior to leaving, so that the team is capable and prepared. In his book, Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni provides some points that I have found useful in setting up the team for my absence.
How to Prepare Your Team: Build up the leadership
I spend time with my middle management team – investing in them and promoting a culture of trust among these employees. We work and enjoy our time together inside and outside the office.
I define expectations and processes that they will be held accountable for. I offer support to help them on projects, but take a step back and watch them work. Also I am transparent about business processes, so the leadership clearly understands steps to take in most situations. For those times they do not know what to do, they will call me.
Encourage Healthy Conflict
Who would think that conflict can be a good thing? Conflict is going to arise in teamwork. Encouraging productive and healthy conflict between management prepares them to know how to handle the real-life scenario when it arises. Make it safe for disagreements. As we like to quip in our office, “It’s ok to disagree, but not to be disagreeable.” Promote a safe atmosphere for being transparent and sharing opinions. This will allow for a back and forth discussion that fosters creativity and promotes individual responsibility and innovation.
Have an End Goal
The end goal in leaving your team is to then return and see the gaps. Yes, you may return to a mess, but you will then know what areas to focus on in training your employees. Give your company the chance to function without you, and you may find that your employees will take ownership of a project’s quality and put their 110 percent into the project. They will learn what is priority.
Train and mentor with the expectation that you will let go of the handlebars. Wobbling and crashing is a normal occurrence for a team, but soon they will be able to ride on their own. Then you will be watching with the pride of a parent who has just taken off the training wheels.
Want to see some of the work the IT Hands team has done in my absence? Visit www.ithands.com.