5 Ways to Engage a Small Team

by Jeff Julian
Elgin Community College
Elgin, IL

Leading small teams can be a big undertaking. Whether you’re conducting meetings or managing team morale, it’s delicate work when only a few people are around the table.

In higher education, it’s common for senior managers to oversee small teams with even smaller budgets and to ask their employees to accomplish major projects under tight deadlines. The only big things in this equation are the expectations.

So how do you keep your group engaged in your vision and their work? Here are five ways to achieve big goals with your small team.

Empower Your Team

Believe in your team and the individual skills of each member. Once you set the vision, goals and objectives for a project, get out of the way. Small teams thrive when each member understands his or her role and the boss gives them the opportunity to perform without constant oversight. On small teams, everyone leads and contributes to a successful project.

Make Space for Everyone

Be aware of your team members’ personalities and then create a comfortable work environment for everyone. If your team is primarily introverts, your impromptu brainstorming session might produce more flop sweat than good ideas. Don’t forget to make time for staff members who prefer to share their ideas privately.

Check in Regularly

A bad vibe spreads quickly through a small team, affecting morale and projects. Check in with your team often through quick, honest conversations at staff meetings or one-on-ones. It’s an effective way to manage issues, but don’t focus solely on problems. Make it a priority to celebrate successes, both professionally and personally.

Prioritize Honest, Respectful Feedback

Honest conversations are the lifeblood of small teams. As a leader, you must create and nurture that environment. One of my team members always tells me when I have a bad idea. He criticizes my ideas respectfully, and he offers his own input on how to make them better. I love it! His candor, and the fact that I supported it, spread throughout our team and became the standard for meetings.

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Nothing wears down a hard-working team like the feeling that what they’re doing doesn’t matter. Safeguarding your team’s limited resources requires constant evaluation of your work. As a leader, you need to be willing to change the approach when it’s no longer producing meaningful results. Your team will work harder for you when they understand that you value their time as much as they do.

Jeff Julian is the executive director of communications at Elgin Community College in Elgin, Illinois. His team oversees internal and external communications, crisis communications, media relations, social media and editorial oversight for major college publications.

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