biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: creating a compelling work environment

by Grace Bonney

i’m thrilled to have meg touborg of design investors llc back for another wonderful biz ladies post. meg has already shared her tips for forming successful biz partnerships, making a strategic biz plan, and successful biz dev, and today she’s touching on a topic that i have been dying to tackle for a long time: creating a compelling work environment.

whether you’re a small or big business ownership, it’s incredibly important to know how to create a healthy, professional, and enjoyable work environment for your team. meg’s advice is spot on, easy to follow and perfect for any type of business. thank you again to meg for sharing her excellent advice!

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

Creating a Compelling Work Environment

We all know that finding and hiring great people is an essential ingredient to all successful biznesses. But, once you have assigned the telephone extensions and e-mail addresses to your dream team —now what? Even for those of us fortunate enough to be managing people of deep talents, sharp minds and strong motivations, there is a moment where we gulp – not only are we in charge of the actual work product, but also of the work environment. Every pack needs a leader and it’s up to you to make the office community thrive! Read on for some of my experiences, observations and tips gleaned from many different creative office environments.

1. How do YOU like to work?

No matter how many New Years’ resolutions you make, you are who you are, and in this context you are The Boss. So, take stock of your work habits and recognize the practical fact that if YOU are functioning happily and naturally, your team will as well. Study your own preferences before attempting to arrange the work flow and practices of those around you. Strange as it sounds, your team will find your habits more fascinating than you could imagine, and will (almost always) adapt theirs accordingly. Examples:

  • If you like meetings, then build multiple group meetings into the weekly schedule. A Monday morning meeting to determine the week’s priorities, a Thursday team meeting to see how projects moved along and to share updates, a Friday meeting to wrap up the week.
  • Conversely, if you find meetings overwhelming or simply not helpful to your work style, then appoint someone else to lead the group gatherings that are important to your particular business, and stay away. However, do let people know that you will talk one-on-one with them to review their work, overcome their obstacles and to share ideas. No one will be insulted by your absence if you explain this alternate style is how you work best.
  • Early Bird or Night Owl? Set and communicate the office hours to suit your needs (…within reason)
  • Do you prefer e-mail or voicemails? Choose a dominant remote communication style that you like, and ask others to follow.
  • Do you like clean surfaces and tidy folders, or are you stimulated by piles of product, prototypes and paperwork? Again, make this approach known to your team so that the very environment can be conducive to YOUR motivation.

These work style preferences are critical elements of office environment and will not only make YOU more content and productive, but will become part of the vernacular that is unique to each workplace and binds people together.

2. Trust and Ownership

Every harmonious environment has intangible ingredients of its culture that make it not only function smoothly but simply feel good as a place to come each day. It is so important for people to feel individually trusted and valued for their intelligence and ideas, and ‘in charge” of their function. Here are a few small tips on this very big subject:

  • Aretha Franklin had it right; R-E-S-P-E-C-T goes a long way.
  • Make each person a “specialist” at their assignments. Use concrete, active language to highlight the responsibility bestowed, such as “I would like you to study XYZ and make a proposal to me…” “I would like you to lead the ABC project …” ”I would like you to participate in the client meeting and present the 123 section.” Think of the pride your employee will feel when repeating to themselves or to others “the leader of our firm selected me to do such and such …”
  • Seek to find particular areas of passion in each team member, outside of their daily duties. Rely on the well-organized worker to ‘own” the office supplies or coordination of a major presentation; ask the articulate and kind worker to draft your customer reply letters or proof your writing; ask the stylish young assistant to advise on what to wear for your magazine interview.
  • Innocent Until Proven Guilty. Easier to say than do. Always recognize that even someone who made a silly mistake or a forgetful omission, most likely failed out of ignorance, not spite. So start slowly when questioning a problematic situation, go easy in asking for a fact pattern, and then allow the “case” to build {NB: recurring performance problems need to be handled differently—let’s cover that challenging subject in another Biz Ladies forum}.
  • Enable people to disagree with you by trying hard to listen and understand. You want your team to feel valued and not afraid to speak their minds. (Besides, you might learn something you didn’t expect).

3. Praise publicly, lecture privately

A comfortable environment is one where people feel that their efforts are recognized publicly, and that their mistakes or foibles won’t be on display. Find opportunities to praise and don’t be bashful.

  • When something goes well—a new product starts selling, a client order comes in, a tough meeting goes better than expected—reflect on who helped make it happen and commend everyone involved.
  • People love to hear not only how they helped the process but how they helped YOU think through a situation, overcome a creative block, get courage to make a cold call, etc. You will not seem weak (unless done to excess) but instead, it will build loyalty with graceful recollection of the different ways different people helped your firm, or YOU personally, achieve a goal.
  • Conversely, try not to criticize or even excessively coach someone in front of the group. Even if you are firmly in the right, and the employee is old fashioned wrong, everyone squirms to hear a peer dressed down.

4. Good Humor, all the time

Some days it seems there is literally nothing amusing about work. Yet, a sense of humor is by far and away one of the best management tools to help people feel connected and comfortable. Work to try to never take yourself too seriously, at least not in front of your team.

5. Stiff Upper Lip

A comfortable and compelling work environment is one where individuals “get” the culture, know their roles—formal and informal—and can find bursts of enjoyment through shared experiences, humor and triumph. It is also one where the Boss maintains her cool, and is confident even through periods of distress and disharmony. It is not easy to do this—while supervising the work flow, handling clients, balancing the budget, remembering birthdays and who had the parking space closest to the building last month. When you need your leadership spirits reinforced, or your methods renewed, rely on a peer in another firm, to avoid revealing your flagging self to your own team. You can really let your “hair down” with an external biz friend in a way that will not confuse your own team, or give them an unpleasant incident to sip at the water cooler. They want you, and need you, to be up beat, solution-oriented and not to carry grudges—and you need an outlet for your natural human emotions and frustrations that will not impact the ongoing atmosphere of your workplace.

6. The Little Things

We all know that little things do mean a lot to a lot of people. If you can, here are some handy gestures that can contribute to a compelling environment:

  • Birthday celebrations—remember this dates and buy a card or bring a cake to celebrate the day.
  • Potluck meals, with or without a theme.
  • Early closings before holidays.
  • Group outings—could be museum night, a great movie, a hike.
  • Sharing books and magazines.

7. Being Successful

  • Figure out how you like to work and what are YOUR essential cultural elements.
  • –Work habits, individual ownership, and small gestures all contribute.

  • Communicate each person’s value and the respect you hold for them.
  • –Listen to your dissenters as carefully as you can.
    –Praise the good wherever you find it.

  • Bring good humor to your interactions every day.
  • Direct your frustrations elsewhere, not on your people.
  • Be yourself…people follow people they like and understand.

    Meg combines her love of design, fashion and culture into her career as “the business side of creative people and entrepreneurs.” Her past roles have spanned from product development, to sales, to operations and marketing and licensing for premium brands such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach, Kate spade and Waterworks. She has three children and enjoys involvement in the public schools. In 2007, Meg became an entrepreneur herself and with her business partner, founded Design Investors LLC in Westport, CT.


    Design Investors LLC was established with a singular objective: to support the growth and profitability of the design industry’s most promising products, business services, and media companies. The firm partners with founders and management teams of portfolio companies to infuse creativity with capital, and reinforce business plans with an extensive resource network and many years of relevant management experience. Appreciating the unique vision and opportunities available to each investment, Design Investors works side-by-side with companies to maximize value through building market leadership positions. www.designinvestors.com

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