Building a strong and efficient team is one of the biggest challenges faced by entrepreneurs. Failure to do so can harm the company and may even endanger it.

After 10 years at the head of my first company, “Friend in France”, creating an amazing team is one of the things I’m most proud of.

I invested in the charisma and passion of my employees to build customer loyalty. As you can see from the pictures (taken during team trips in recent years), we are all different but our smiles and our enthusiasm unite us. We shared these with our customers.

Here are the key features of my management style… Identifying them took me time and many mistakes:

Finding your own style

I have never been so nervous as during my first job interview, as a boss! I had trouble believing that someone could trust me to guarantee their salary. During that time, my well-intentioned friends and family gave me advice, including :

“Your employees have to vouvoient you! Otherwise they won’t respect you.

“You have to be more authoritarian”

“You have to show them who’s boss!”

I did try and I made a fool of myself! While finding my feet as a boss, my biggest mistake was trying to change my personality. Being an alpha male is both credible and effective for alphas males, but not for a ” nice ” 28 year old girl!

This took me some time, but I ended up realising that my strength was precisely in the characteristics that differentiated me from the stereotypical “boss”: honesty, team spirit, willingness to communicate, respect for others, and my attachment to fairness and equity…

Communicating

The best teams are made up of varied and complementary profiles. Diversity, if optimized, is a driving force towards excellence. To achieve that, it’s essential to accept that methods of interaction and thought processes will often be different from one team member to another and can create tensions. Communication is key when learn to interact constructively. Creating an environment based on communication and trust is the manager’s responsibility at all times. If this state of mind does not come “from above”, there is little chance that it will take place naturally.

Encouraging accountability

Nobody likes admitting their mistakes and errors, especially at work!

However managing human errors in a team is extremely important. In an environment where accepting personal responsibility is a sign of weakness, this is what happens:

  • Everyone gets defensive
  • Time is wasted by colleagues trying to find out who is at fault.
  • No one wants to help solve the problem out of fear that it will be seen as an admission of responsibility
  • And the members of the team start resenting each other

In order to change that dynamics within my own company, three very simple things have proven to be effective:

  • Acknowledging  my own mistakes. I make as many as my colleagues ( if not more).
  • Avoiding freaking out when an employee confesses to a mistake.
  • Explaining that finding solutions is much more important to me than knowing who made the mistake.

Valuing

While employees would, of course, like a pay rise, rare are the small businesses that can afford to offer it. Employing, especially in France, is very expensive.

I’ve found other ways to value my team.

For example:

At the end of the month I ask my employees to give me a list of the dates they would like off : a wedding, a birthday, a meal with friends, etc…I take those dates into consideration when making the following month’s schedule. It takes longer, but it’s absolutely worth it.

  1. An employee who works reluctantly because he is missing an important event or moment with his family will not be able to give 100% of himself in his work.
  2. It’s bonding for colleagues to work together with flexibility and a give and take mentality to ensure that everyone achieves a good work-life balance.

Not micro-managing

This was easy for me because I could never keep that many balls in the air !

I knew I wanted a self-motivated and forward thinking team.

Before I started hiring, I tried to write a detailed code of conduct. I quickly realised that my colleagues would fall asleep reading it. So I changed my strategy.

I binned that and replaced it with this simple concept:

“Behave with our customers and partners as you would with your mother-in-law: establish good long-term relationships with respectful complicity.”

With this metaphor in mind, my drivers can respond to almost any situation.

  • The client needs help getting her bags downstairs… if she were my mother-in-law, what would I do?
  • The customer cannot contact his Airb&b agent… what would I do if this were my mother-in-law?
  • And so on. 🙂

Leading by example

I was a driver myself for years. Hands-on, first-hand experience is the best way to earn employees’ respect. I would never ask a driver to do something I wouldn’t do myself.

And above all, I give them the same level of respect that I expect in return. 

What are the strengths you bring to your team to increase efficiency and harmony?