3 Lessons I Learned from Working on a Tiny Team

No matter where your career journey takes you, at some point, you’ll probably find yourself working on a small team. Maybe you’re in the creative department at an agency or a group of freelancers sharing office space. Maybe you’re at a startup or a really small nonprofit. 

I’ve had the tremendous opportunity to work on several small teams—from internships at nonprofits, to part-time jobs, to a startup. Each experience was unique but helped me learn lessons that carry over from one position to the next. 

Here are three important lessons about working on a tiny team.

1. Be a champion of good communication

Everyone knows good communication is important, yet it so often goes overlooked. In the same way that a relationship needs healthy communication to grow and thrive, a small team needs it to function effectively. 

You don’t have to be in a creative industry or be a master public speaker to communicate well. All you really need is a willingness to share your work, your questions, and your ideas with the rest of the team.

Some ways a tiny team can communicate well is to: 

  1. Hold weekly check-ins. If your team is no more than a handful of folks, it shouldn’t be too hard to schedule a 15-minute face-to-face or virtual meeting (such as with Zoom). This gives everyone an opportunity to share what they’re working on, issues they’re facing, and the overall direction the team—or the company—is heading in.
  2. Commit to using a communication tool. This could as simple as using email or a messaging platform (such as Slack). Make sure everyone is on board and will be consistent about using this communication tool. It doesn’t do much good if a couple people are great at messaging one another, but the other three aren’t.
  3. Consolidate with a project management tool. If your team collaborates often, it can do wonders just having one landing spot for all your projects. Platforms like Notion or Trello are great for keeping everyone on track with their projects, due dates, and more.
Texting on a smartphone

2. Be willing to wear many hats

When four team members are juggling fifteen departments’ worth of work, you can’t expect to sit in your comfort zone doing what you’ve been trained to do.

For example, I’m a writer, but I’ve gone outside the world of the word processor and done: 

  • Photography 
  • Data entry
  • UX design
  • Audio recordings
  • Administrative tasks
  • Graphic design
  • SEO
  • Event support
  • Cold calls
  • Presentations

Some of my greatest joys at work have come from something I never studied or practiced before.

Rather than looking at deviations from your job description as an inconvenience, embrace them as an opportunity to learn and grow.

If possible, I suggest you pick up new skills with online learning tools, such as LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, or Skillshare. You could also attend industry conferences or webinars.

But first, check to see if your company has continuing education opportunities or will otherwise support your learning goals. It’s in everyone’s best interest that you become a diversely-skilled employee.

Two women working at a computer

3. Be flexible with your teammates

You’re around each other 40 hours a week, if not longer. That’s plenty of time to get on one another’s nerves. It’s important that you’re willing to give a little and take a little with your teammates. 

There will be days they don’t reply to your emails, and there will be days you’re not as productive as they are.  It’s important that you don’t let these fluctuations break your team.

Stay flexible. Stay forgiving. Help your teammates out when they want your involvement, and give them space when they don’t.

That said, you’ll need to make the distinction between someone having a bad day and a chronically lazy employee. On a tiny team, unproductive members are as easy to spot as a giraffe in a pigpen. 

If your boss or team leader somehow doesn’t notice, promptly but kindly bring it to their attention. It’s important that you don’t let bad behavior fester and put a strain on the rest of the team.

Now go be awesome!

I hope these tips help you to champion good communication, embrace new tasks, and stay flexible on your team. Even if your coworkers aren’t shining examples of all these traits (and they won’t always be!), don’t be discouraged. Keep yourself growing, even on the tiniest of teams.

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