We all know the famous saying, “there is no ‘I’ in team work.” While every person has different talents and skills, being part of a strong team enables us all to highlight our strengths and to overcome our weaknesses. As the founder and CEO of a small successful educational company, I have experienced first hand how working as a team can make all the difference.
My company works with schools to create and deliver personalized live online courses. Running a “virtual company” has its advantages. Most of our employees can work from home, and there is a certain level of flexibility that does not exist in the average “cubicle” job. The virtual setup also makes finding and hiring new employees a great deal easier, as location is not a factor. Currently, my company has employees literally all over Israel, as well as in other locations around the world. As long as everyone has an Internet connection, the work can proceed uninterrupted. With most of our employees spread out all over, working as a team becomes essential, although also a great deal more challenging.
As an educational provider, our team often needs to work together to ensure that issues with students and schools are resolved in an appropriate way. In a regular school building, a conversation between two colleagues may happen in the teacher’s lounge, or even in the hall. Sometimes, that conversation may not even be needed, as minor problems can resolve themselves. When working virtually however, the team work must be at 100%. A teacher from Be’er Sheva must be able to coordinate efforts with her colleague in Jerusalem quickly and efficiently. Thanks to a variety of tech based tools, this type of team work has become a bit easier than it was even a few years ago. Yet, the importance of making sure a team works well together can be the difference between a successful company and a disaster.
So, how does a company promote a team work driven atmosphere? Well, the efforts must start at the top. When I founded my company almost seven years ago, it was literally a one man operation. As we slowly grew and added additional staff, we maintained a “loose” atmosphere, as the customers were happy and the work was getting done. By the end of our first year of operations, we grew from one (me) to five employees. This growth clearly showed that we were doing something right, yet as the team grew, we began to face challenges that had not existed earlier. At the end of our second year, with a staff of around twelve, I knew that I could no longer do it all on my own. Until that point, I was dealing with every administrative issue that came up including content creation, quality assurance, hiring, HR, finances, etc. For the first time since founding my company, I realized that I needed some help. Luckily, I was quickly able to find the perfect person to join our admin team and we were able to continue to offer great educational services to our rapidly growing customer base.
With the expansion of our administrative team, and a growing roster of employees, certain tasks and responsibilities that had until this point been handled rather informally now needed more structure. We quickly realized that more staff meant more of two other developments. First, additional team members brought a great deal more professional experiences. Every employee came to our organization with his or her own professional accomplishments. I knew that we needed to learn from these talented individuals. More staff also brought the need for better communication and collaboration. We could no longer assume that everyone was on the “same page.” We knew that we had to add structure and procedure that up to this point were not needed. This period served as a true transition for the company as we were becoming more dependent on each other in order to successfully serve our customers.
Like many other companies, the last seven years have had their “ups and downs.” As we continued to grow, it became clear that more and better communication were required. Three years ago, I created the company’s first official HR Manual. The truth is that there were very few changes and surprises. It was just the first time that our policies and procedures had been written down and explained in one central location. More than a few staff members were initially unhappy with the more formal approach that were were now taking. Over time however, through communication and collaboration, we have continued to tailor our way of doing things to be able to maximize our productivity and successes.
As we are coming to the conclusion of our seventh school year, I can look back and truly appreciate the importance of creating a team atmosphere. While we have in no way perfected the way that communication and team work happen, I have tried to create an atmosphere where staff members can feel like they are part of a true team. These efforts have in fact been successful to a large extent because of my own realization that the team building needs to begin with me. I am blessed to have an amazing administrative staff (now consisting of three people) that has added so many new elements to the team culture that I always striven to create. In the past year alone, we have had more staff events, visits, and professional development opportunities than we ever had before. The hard truth is that the only element for which I can take credit is for putting together my all-star administrative team. A few short years ago, I could not imagine anyone else taking on these tasks, but by trying to create a collaborative culture, the company continues to benefit.
The team atmosphere does not stop with the administrative team. In the past year, our company’s educational team have committed themselves to more collaboration than we have ever had in past years. Our staff WhatsAp group is always chiming with teacher sharing resources, asking questions, or just offering their own expertise to their colleagues. The care that staff members have given to their students and schools has been equally impressive. Many of our staff have taken it upon themselves to help their students outside of class time. These examples of dedication and determination have played a huge factor in our successes. As the founder and CEO, I will be the first to admit that while I may have had an idea, launching a successful company has been a true group effort. While we have by no means created a perfect professional culture, the importance of creating this type of collaborative environment is important for any successful company or organization. As I look back on our accomplishments and even on some of our failures, the importance of working as a team is clear. We all continue to grow together, and support each of our strengths as well as our shortcomings. That is part of being on a true winning team.