A growing team can feel daunting, especially as a manager. But with the right strategies, growth can feel exciting instead of out of control. In this article, we outline solutions to four common “growing pains,” so you can avoid roadblocks and set your growing team up for success.
Growth is exciting. It means your team has promise, and your company wants to invest in helping you succeed. But growth also brings change—and if your team is growing, it’s normal to feel a bit daunted by increasing responsibilities. If that sounds familiar, don’t worry. Pretty much every great leader has had to adapt to growth at some point. And while growth is never perfect, the right strategies can help you navigate change and grow your team with confidence.
A growing team is one that’s getting bigger and more complex. It’s a result of hiring new talent and bringing more people onboard—so you can achieve more and expand the scope of your work. Growth is exciting because it brings new energy and ideas to the table. But having a bigger team also requires you to rethink the way you work. The way you did things in the past may not scale as your team grows, so you have to be proactive to avoid the dreaded “growing pains” that so many expanding teams experience.
Luckily, the right management strategies can help your team grow with confidence instead of confusion. When you manage your growing team the right way, you can:
Set new hires up for success.
Help existing employees embrace change.
Avoid needless “work about work.”
Bypass roadblocks so you can scale faster.
Growth is never perfect, but it doesn’t have to feel out of control. Below, we’ve outlined four common growing pains and their solutions—so you can stop issues in their tracks (or even better, prevent them from happening in the first place).
Fast team growth can make you feel like Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western—chasing down gold with no rules or laws to guide your way. You don’t know what you’re responsible for, who to talk to, or how to work with your team to get things done.
But while westerns are fun to watch, you don’t want work to feel like one. If your team is growing, here’s how to avoid the movie drama and create some structure instead.
When your team grows, responsibilities naturally change and expand. And while it’s relatively easy to keep track of responsibilities on a team of two or three, it’s a lot harder when you have more people to manage.
Clear roles and responsibilities help your team work more efficiently and avoid overwork. When team members know exactly what they’re responsible for, they feel more sure about their skills and waste less time figuring out who does what. In fact, research shows that one in three knowledge workers feel overworked from a lack of clarity on tasks and roles.
Here are some ways to clarify responsibilities on your team:
Use a RACI chart to clarify project roles. A RACI chart outlines who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed for a given project. It provides a blueprint for team collaboration, so you can reduce confusion and ensure you don’t have two people working on the same thing.
Define areas of responsibility. While RACI charts help clarify responsibilities for a specific project, it’s also important to outline higher-level responsibilities for each team member. At Asana, we create clarity by giving individuals specific areas of responsibility (AoRs). Each AoR lists out specifically what that person is responsible for. It’s also documented and easily accessible to everyone at the company, so we know who to go to for specific questions.
Create hierarchy. Hierarchy outlines who employees report to and who should make final decisions. It provides clear career advancement paths for employees who want to become people managers, and lightens your burden as the manager of a growing team. Implementing hierarchy might not make sense for smaller teams, but bigger ones can benefit. For example, you could break a team of 15 down into two smaller sub-teams, each with their own manager.
Picture this: You use an Excel spreadsheet to track the projects your team members are working on. But since you’ve added four new hires, your spreadsheet is out of control. No matter how many times you update it, something is out of date. Soon, you notice team members are missing key tasks and deadlines.
We’ve all been there. Old processes that used to work become clunky and unmanageable as your team grows. As a result, you end up wasting valuable time on “work about work”—tasks like updating spreadsheets and sending emails.
Research shows that teams could save 257 hours per year with improved processes. As your team expands, that means it’s essential to create scalable workflows that can grow with it. And since processes only work if your team knows how to use them, you should also create process documentation for key workflows to ensure they’re clear and accessible to everyone.
Here’s how to create scalable processes as your team grows.
Automate simple and repeatable tasks. If you’re looking to streamline any process, automation is your best friend. For example, project management tools like Asana let you automate repeatable tasks and reduce “work about work.” Imagine the time you could save if you could send automatic status updates about projects, automatically organize project documentation, or automatically triage assignments to the right person.
Create reusable templates for common workflows. As your team grows, it’s important to standardize processes so everyone on your team does things the same way. Templates come in handy because they provide a blueprint for how to perform a task. For example, a project brief template lays out the type of information each team member should include in their brief, so everyone covers key steps. Project management software can help you create templates for more complex workflows—like employee onboarding templates and product marketing launch templates.
Restructure workflows to remove bottlenecks. Bottlenecks are a common problem for growing teams, especially when managers are responsible for overseeing the work of more and more employees. For example, imagine you manage a team of developers and you’ve just hired three new employees. You used to personally review each person’s code before it went live, but now you’re struggling to keep up. Instead of letting yourself be a bottleneck, have developers pair up and peer review their code instead.
As a manager, it’s a big change when your team grows. More employees means more people to manage and more work on your plate. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, even when you’re excited about onboarding new team members.
Managers aren't immune to burnout. In fact, research shows that 66% of bosses experience burnout, while 76% feel overwhelmed managing their people. That means when your team grows, it’s essential to set up practices to prevent burnout before it happens.
You can’t do it all by yourself—but that’s what teams are for. Instead of trying to maintain the same level of oversight you had when your team was smaller, work on building trust and empowering your team to become self-sufficient. That way you can focus on the bigger picture strategy while your employees flex their more specialized skills.
Here’s how to build a self-sufficient team:
Create a standardized onboarding process. A structured onboarding process lays out all the steps required for every new hire, so you can ensure new employees get the right information at the right time. When done right, onboarding helps you empower new members to learn, grow, and become more self-sufficient in their roles. Plus, standardizing your onboarding process means you don’t have to start from scratch each time you hire someone new. Instead you can work off of an existing template that already includes all the basics—like HR requirements, IT setup, job skills training, and more.
Pair new employees with seasoned mentors. A mentor meets regularly with your new hire and is typically a peer on their team. Paring new employees with a mentor takes some of the onboarding burden off your shoulders. Plus, a mentor is someone your new hire can talk to other than you. This provides a low-pressure space for employees to bring up issues or questions they feel uncomfortable talking about with you.
Delegate work and responsibilities. Delegating is when you reassign tasks and initiatives to other team members—either to distribute responsibility more evenly or because that work is more relevant to someone else’s skills or interests. Effective delegation gives team members the chance to work on interesting projects, build their skills, and develop new strengths. It helps build trust, encourages teamwork, and empowers your team to take on more responsibility and grow in their roles.
When your team gets bigger, making strong connections takes some extra effort. Small teams are often tight-knit because members work together closely on tasks. On the other hand, larger teams often include a more diverse set of expertise, so there isn’t as much crossover. And as a manager, it’s harder to see and acknowledge great work when your team grows—meaning team members may feel like their contributions aren’t recognized.
Luckily, a bit of extra planning can go a long way to help employees feel seen and supported. Here’s how to prioritize team building as your team grows:
Focus on culture. Culture is made up of all the norms, best practices, ideals, and shared values within your team or company. Great company culture helps current team members feel supported and gives them a blueprint for how to interact with their coworkers. Introduce new employees to your corporate culture during onboarding to make a good impression and make sure they feel supported in their early days. You can also emphasize core company values to your existing team and make sure they’re on the same page, too.
Use icebreakers and team building games. A bit of structure goes a long way in encouraging team members to open up and build relationships. Reserve five minutes at the start of team meetings or 1:1 check-ins for icebreaker questions, or schedule a separate session for longer team-building games. At Asana, some of our favorite icebreakers include silly questions like “Is a hotdog a sandwich?” and more serious prompts like “Who in life has inspired you the most?”
Find ways to show appreciation. Appreciation is key to ensure team members feel like all their hard work is recognized. As you build your team, ask each member how they prefer to be recognized. For example, some people might prefer public appreciation in front of the entire team, while others benefit most from one-on-one feedback. You can also ask if they prefer rewards like physical gifts, time off, or experiences such as team lunches or happy hours.
Encourage inter-team feedback. As your team scales, it’s harder to see exactly what each of your employees is working on—and as a result, you might miss instances when team members go above and beyond. To remedy this, encourage a culture of appreciation among your employees. For example, you can set aside a few minutes at the start of weekly team meetings for team members to show each other gratitude. Or, dedicate a day of the week for employees to celebrate their personal wins (“Wednesday Wins,” anyone?).
When your team grows, it’s important to have processes that can scale and adapt. And if you want to stay nimble and keep everything crystal clear, project management software is key. That means no more static documents and endless email threads. Instead, the right work management tool can help you create scalable workflows—so you always know what’s next and who’s doing what, by when.