How To Successfully Manage a Small Team (With Tips)

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As a manager or supervisor, you may manage teams of various sizes and complexity. Managing a small team requires a unique set of skills and practices, and understanding effective ways to manage a small team may contribute to your success as a leader. Knowing more about leading a team can help you develop professional capabilities to use in nearly every industry. In this article, we define small team management and provide a list of eight steps and additional tips to help you successfully manage a small team.

What is small team management?

Small team management is the act of leading a group of between one and 10 people to accomplish a task, project or work with maximum efficiency. It often refers to a set of skills a leader or manager uses to highlight each person’s strengths and talents to ensure productivity within a team. When managing small teams, team leaders typically define the project scope, design an effective vision, set project goals and deadlines, delegate responsibilities and roles to the team and identify project deliverables. Leaders of small teams may also create the project schedule, evaluate its progress and make necessary adjustments.

Small team management can often include:

  • Training and coaching employees

  • Communicating important project and company information

  • Acknowledging individual and team contributions

  • Strengthening the skills of a team or its team members

  • Rewarding efforts, achievements and work at an individual and team level

Related: Guide to People Management: Definition, Tips and Skills

How to manage a small team successfully

Consider following these eight actionable steps to manage a small team successfully:

1. Use coaching as a leadership style

As a small team manager, consider using coaching as a leadership style to empower employees, help them reach their full potential and increase a team’s morale. You can assess the skills and talents of each team member and support their development and honing of skills through coaching leadership, too. For example, you might pair a junior insurance associate with an experienced one on a client referral task to help build their understanding of company goals and work tasks. Coaching leadership can also often build trust, understanding and good communication, which can be helpful for when situations may arise.

2. Set realistic and clear objectives

Setting clear and realistic objectives is often essential to building a successful team, and it’s important to develop skills to share and assign responsibilities to achieve those objectives. As the manager, try to ensure everyone knows their role and expectations, complete with actionable, reasonable and achievable goals or milestones. Outlining a project’s details can help your employees know what to work toward with distinctly defined timelines, tasks and measurements of success. Consider establishing open communication that lets employees be honest, seek clarification or address critical issues. Talking to your team can help them reach goals, finish tasks and mitigate issues.

3. Hold regular team meetings

Holding regular meetings can help align employees and leadership with company goals. It can also help you learn about issues or challenges the team experiences. You can hold scheduled meetings, like daily or weekly, or call them on an ad hoc basis when you have important information or updates to share. Whether in person, through telephone conference calls or on video platforms, team meetings often allow a group to discuss achievements, review open work and plan for or delegate other responsibilities.

4. Maintain good communication

Managing teams of all sizes often relies on effective communication, both verbal and written. Proper communication can help teams understand what’s expected of them and how to achieve it. You can develop or hone productive methods and tones to communicate properly, depending on the situation. Strong communication also is about receiving feedback from your team, so consider sharing with them how to reach leaders to give their input, like through email, survey opportunities or in person, for example.

5. Show appreciation and give recognition

As a manager, consider acknowledging and rewarding those who perform well on a team and individual basis. Recognition or incentive programs can help increase a team’s morale, a leader’s ability to manage and the overall work productivity. You can use existing recognition and incentive programs your company has or create your own for your team. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • An employee of the month or year program

  • Customer compliment highlight boards

  • Recognition platforms for peers to nominate

  • Bonus incentive programs

  • Personalized recognition in meetings or through team communications

You can also share feedback, appreciation and recognition informally as a leader of a small team, too. For example, a brief email praising a recent sales contract, sharing public acknowledgment of significant cost savings during a meeting or treating someone to coffee or lunch as a thank you for the overtime they did are all good ways of informally expressing thanks as a leader.

Read more: 11 Employee Recognition Ideas That Will Make Your Employees Feel Valued

6. Distribute the workload fairly

Managing a small team effectively often includes knowing how to distribute the workload fairly, using each team member’s skills and strengths well. Consider carefully matching duties of employees who can do the tasks well to further encourage collaboration, success and morale. Distributing work fairly also means knowing how many tasks to give to each person, so there is a balance of continuous work amongst the full team.

7. Promote a work-life balance

Consider promoting a strong work-life balance when managing a small team. It can help ensure team members are engaged, fresh-minded and satisfied with their work and employer. You can help promote a positive work-life balance for your small team through things like:

  • Flexible work hours and remote opportunities

  • Amble time off programs

  • Social outings and volunteer activities

  • Mental health and wellness programs

  • Gym memberships and fitness classes

  • Autonomy-based workflows

8. Manage conflict well

Conflict amongst teams can often be inevitable, though how you manage it can sometimes be more important than the resolution itself. Consider approaching issues immediately to prevent a decrease in morale or productivity on your team. When conflict is a personnel issue, try to keep matters confidential, handle them discretely and encourage positive action plans to help the team move forward.

What are other tips for small team management?

Here are six additional tips you can apply to develop skills as a small team manager:

  • Create and maintain a positive working relationship. As a small team manager, consider getting to know your employees on an individual level to create a friendly and positive relationship. Learning about their interests can often strengthen your connection and build trust within the team.

  • Be authentic. Being genuine is often a respected trait of a leader. When you engage in communication, be mindful of your body language, tone and time, as being authentic in your conversation and not rushing to finish can help grow your reputation as an approachable, genuine and trustworthy leader.

  • Lead by example. Employees usually look to their leaders for inspiration and guidance, and you can often earn their respect and influence their behavior by actively setting a professional example. Arrive on time to work, speak professionally and meet your own deadlines, for example.

  • Have confidence. Confidence is an important leadership trait you can develop, though it also comes with experience and practice. Consider attending leadership conferences and seminars, reading books about the topic or taking online coaching classes to improve your confidence.

  • Encourage collaboration. Collaboration can positively influence a team’s performance. You can establish a culture of teamwork and collaboration by being transparent, sharing ideas and having interactive tools in place, like messaging platforms, for example.

  • Create a centralized work list. A team task list everyone can access lets employees see how their work affects the company and lets everyone know outstanding tasks versus completed work, which can help meet deadlines and increase productivity and motivation. You can research various dashboards and workflow platforms to find one that best suits your team’s needs.