Keys to Better Founder-Team Relationships (Part 1 of 2)

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By Jane Leu

At Smarter Good, we work with about 30 Founders and their teams concurrently, on a daily basis, for at least 6 months and often for many years at a time. I’m also the founder of several ventures. Seeing the interactions between founders and their teams has been a wake-up call for me about the ways in which us founders fail our teams and stand in the way of results-making. Witnessing this friction for six years and through reflection on how I make these mistakes myself, I feel compelled to give some friendly advice to founders and teams about small ways they can change to work better–and get more enjoyment–out of working with each other. 

Founders, here’s 5 ways to work better with your teams.

1. Respect the decision-making and reporting structures

If you want your companies and organizations to grow, you have to get out of the middle of every decision, and let others manage their teams and make decisions, without your input. While you may think you are giving useful guidance, your managers interpret your input as directives and they feel undermined when you get involved with their direct reports and the areas that they own. Force yourself to get work done through your direct reports only and let others fully own decisions that fall into their areas.

2. Have decision-making and reporting structures

To the point above, your organization must have these structures so that you can learn to respect them. Put clear structures in place about who owns what decisions. Without these structures, decisions big and small will be forced to run through you and you will continue to be the bottleneck to results and forward motion. Trust me, your teams are VERY frustrated that you are constantly a bottleneck to getting things done. If you don’t know how to create these decision structures, let someone help you create them. Your team will feel empowered and you may be able to go on vacation from time to time, knowing that work goes on without you.  

3. Stop changing priorities

Once the strategic and operating plans are done, they are done. While these plans may need revision if major external or internal events happen, they do not need to be revised by you and your shifting priorities on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Stick to the plan and let your team implement against it and get to results. 

4. Don’t pile on more work

To the points above, decide on the results that should come out of your strategic and operating plans, and then let your directors and managers figure out how to work with their teams to produce them. Stop yourself from assigning more and more work, even if it is aligned with the top priorities. You are wearing people out with your expectations of what is achievable.

5. Be Appreciative

The work is hard and moves fast and as a founder you work hard and move fast, we get it. Slow down long enough to appreciate the hard work your teammates put in, too. Drop them a line of praise or thanks, and celebrate the wins along the way. Let them know that you appreciate a risk they took, an extra push to get to excellence, or perseverance to lean into hard times or tough criticism. Taking time to recognize people’s contributions and efforts is worth it.  While you may be self-directed and not need a lot of external motivation, most humans thrive on an appreciative word, especially when they are working hard on tough problems.

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