Leading a team never crossed my mind when starting my business back in 2004. But, in order to grow and be able to use my specific gifts well, I quickly realized I couldn’t do it alone. Since starting my business, I’ve learned a lot about cultivating a meaningful team culture. I’ve also made a ton of mistakes that taught me far more than my successes! But, it’s the same with hard seasons in life and mistakes along the way: they grow us.

A little bit about our team today: I work alongside eight full-time employees, three of which are remote. We also have one part-time designer, and a few part-time employees who help us in our busy seasons. We run two companies together: Southern Weddings and Cultivate What Matters. I love each of these women, and I’m turning the mic to them to tell you what they think makes a great team!

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From Emily (With the company 7.5 years. Read her story here.)Skills are important, but it’s much harder to teach integrity, passion, kindness, or tact. I think we have prioritized these “soft” qualities when adding to our team, and it has paid off tenfold. If you can surround yourself with people who genuinely care about each other and about your work and mission, the work that needs to happen will get done, and will get done well.

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From Nicole (With the company 6 years. “I first met Lara as a student at UNC, and applied to be an intern at Southern Weddings shortly thereafter. Once my internship was over, I was invited to stay on as an editorial assistant, and eventually made my way to my dream job as the Art Director!”)Instill a learning spirit and sense of adventure. Operating and growing a business is hard work, and new demands can pop up exponentially faster than you anticipated. Our team handles them not only because we have a great sense of responsibility, but because we trust each other to learn new skills that help move us forward, and because we approach challenges like exciting opportunities (at least, we try to!). Additionally, we’ve always felt the need to hire people who are smarter than us, instead of those who meet us where we are. One of our office mottos is, “make it better/do it better,” after all.

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From Marissa (With the company 6.5 years. “While working in Corporate America, I was inspired by this post, and took a chance on using my own Truth Day as a cover letter to my resume. Lots of emails, an in-person interview, and several phone calls later I actually started working as Lara’s assistant as well as running social media for SW. Through the years, my job role has shifted and evolved, but my love for our mission and my coworkers hasn’t.”)Don’t let roles or titles define all tasks. While it is important to have clear job roles and expectations, cross-brainstorming with other departments or team members that might not have the same area of expertise is not only refreshing, but so very helpful. Knowing that your colleagues are willing to jump in and help when a project gets challenging or when you need a fresh pair of eyes is invaluable. You also never know when you’ll discover a hidden talent!

From Kristin (With the company 5 years, after we met her at a SW Gingerbread Barns event!)Build in refreshment days to the yearly calendar. Having an annual team retreat, or taking an afternoon to visit a local bakery or pick blueberries does more than just give you time out of the office. It gives you a chance to connect and learn about one another. Being able to reset and refocus is a great way to establish strong team unity and commitment.

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From Amber (With the company 1 year. We featured Amber’s wedding on Southern Weddings forever ago, and became friends. She became a wedding planner and did a lot of editorial work with us, and later spoke at the MTH Conference. After a year of searching for the best fit for our marketing position, Amber emailed me one day asking if we were looking for someone. Turns out, she was the perfect fit, and it was perfect timing! More here.)Use tools like Strengths Finder or personality type resources to your advantage. Ensure that the roles and tasks for each position are a good match for the team member’s individual strengths and working style. When potentially adding new team members, you can gain insight from these test results to see how they will potentially balance the team as a whole — so you can achieve greater success!

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From Jess (With the company 1 year. “I’d known Lara for about a year when she asked me to help watch her kiddos while she finished writing her next book, Cultivate. I turned her down (sorry Lara!) and instead took a full-time job in Customer Service and Social Media with a start-up in the Triangle. When my hours at new job unexpectedly shifted a few months later, I offered my assistance to Lara with Grace and Joshua while I was job-searching. We had a few conversations about my newfound love for customer service, and she mentioned that the Southern Weddings team was looking for a Customer Delight and Shop Manager. A few whirlwind days of conversations, interviews, and prayer later, I officially joined the team and it’s only gotten better since!”)Prioritize small talk – It seems inefficient, but taking 15 minutes in the morning or before calls to catch about how your evening/weekend was will add up over time. These little by little conversations create relationship equity, and you slowly learn facts about your other team members that you wouldn’t have otherwise known.

*Lisa is on maternity leave right now, but you can read her story here.

unspecified-3Photo by Faith Teasley – one of my favorite photos! We were picking tomatoes from a neighbor’s farm for a photo shoot : ) 

Three tips from me:

1. Be very specific about what you need when hiring. Make your ultimate wish list of skills, and qualities needed, and keep interviewing till you find the perfect fit. EntreLeadership has a great chapter on hiring well. So often I see business owners scrambling in the hiring process because they don’t actively seek out employees till months after they really need them (we have done this in the past too!). Don’t let the urgency of your immediate business needs outweigh the long-term success you could have through a patient and thorough hiring process. Even if your business suffers in the short-term (like it did for us before we hired Jess and Amber in January after a YEAR of searching!), the long-term benefits will be worth your patient intentionality.

2. Know your why, and live it out yourself. This is more of a leadership tip, but if you want your team to follow your lead, be worth following. That does not mean you have to be perfect (I am certainly not); it means being humble when you mess up, and it means being excited about the core of why you do what you do. Our office motto: if you’re not excited about it, no one will be!

3. Get yourself a Henrietta! Having a team mascot—a visible figurine or item–helps you to be unified and energized together. A natural choice for us here in the South, and a unanimous selection: Henrietta the hen. She’s a two-inch tall golden hen, and each week she lays “golden eggs.” One of the hallmarks of our company culture is giving these golden eggs, or words of encouragement, out to each team member during weekly staff meetings. It’s our favorite part of the week!

4. Stare fear in the eyes together. This year has been a perfect example of this. We went through many hard times together—times we all felt fear and uncertainty. There was lots of transition, and me being largely absent in writing my book and having two new babies in the house. But good things came out of that hard season, and the sometimes-hard conversations we had. Talk about what’s not working in your business, what you’re afraid of, and what you think needs changing. Those conversations were ultimately very fruitful!

5. Get on the same page. A boat being powered by a team cannot travel smoothly if everyone is paddling in different directions. We use PowerSheets as a team to set good goals together, and create strong team unity. Last week, we did our set of team PowerSheets (so helpful!!), and this week we all dove into our own individual 2017 PowerSheets!

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Huge thanks to my team for sharing their wisdom in this post, and for ALL they do! I hope you get to meet these ladies in person one day. They are pretty special : )

P.S. Don’t know what to get our team for the holidays? Give them the gift of renewed focus, motivation, and inspiration. Gift them #PowerSheets!  TOMORROW (December 16th) is the last day to order for Christmas delivery. Get your 2017 PowerSheets here and read my last post for a special discount code (which is larger than our usual groups discount, so use that code while it lasts!).

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