Leading a team is essentially like herding cats. If you’re the one establishing the team, the odds of your getting cat-wrangling “right” from the get-go are zero. Plan on facing these six common challenges head on.

Nicole Solari is a top-producing broker-owner in Northern California whose regular bimonthly column, which covers real estate marketing, selling strategies and working with clients, publishes on Tuesdays. 

What, in your opinion, are the biggest challenges that real estate teams face?

When I think about this question, I refer to the website the Business Dictionary, which offers a pretty thorough definition.

Paraphrased, it goes something like this: A group of people with the complementary skills required to complete a task, job or project. Team members operate with a high degree of interdependence, share authority and responsibility for self-management, are accountable for the team’s collective performance, and work toward a common goal.

I’d say the biggest challenges teams face are all suggested in that definition.

Leading a team is essentially like herding cats. If you’re the one establishing the team, the odds of your getting cat-wrangling “right” from the get-go are zero. So, plan on facing these six common challenges:

1. Failing

If you can’t brook the idea of failing, picking yourself up after numerous inevitable mistakes, and learning from those mistakes, you might want to forget about creating a team. Mistakes are part of the process. High achievers hate this process!

The good news is you can fine-tune every aspect of your team if you see it as an evolving, growing organism and not a piece of statuary.

2. Defining leadership

The structure of the team must reflect its leaders’ personality, style and core values.

Determining how your team will operate — and especially what role you expect to play yourself — is an essential first (and ongoing) step. Also: There’s no one right way.

At a recent forum on leadership, the biggest takeaway was how varied leadership styles can be. All of them work when their leaders are honest with themselves, know who they are and how they want to interact with teammates, and in turn, know how the teammates interact with each other and the outside world.

The “how” part of that last sentence is the bedrock on which your business culture is built. So it’s wise to give this serious thought.

3. Becoming sustainable

Your business model has to be economically sustainable.

Markets change, people change, skill sets change, schedules change. No matter how adaptable your structure is, calculating compensation amid ongoing, often unforeseeable change will be among the more challenging aspects of your business.

It’s a tough balance: If pay scales are too favorable to the business, recruiting and retaining team members is tough. If they’re over weighted to individuals, the business struggles.

Finding a balance that’s a win-win for the business and your team members requires continual fine-tuning. It also demands you recognize some team members make greater contributions than others to your team’s success, and some soak up more resources than others.

The latter can still be a good fit for your team, if the team is strong enough to carry them temporarily. But for those who need a lot of hand-holding and/or training, their pay rate needs to reflect your investment — at least until they find their footing.

4. Determining the right roles

What are everyone’s roles? What are your expectations, and how will you measure success?

Not every team will have the same role players, expectations for its members or accountability metrics. And whatever the team roles look like today, they’ll change over time. Even so, and regardless of how you structure your team, team members have to know what they’re responsible for now and how they can meet and, hopefully, exceed your expectations.

And for a team to thrive, every member of that team must also know based on personal experience that fairness is baked into the system. Salaries and splits vary. That will cause no tension if everyone knows the same metrics are used to determine compensation across the board.

Fairness must be the default in all your business systems from lead distribution and access to leaders to training and growth opportunities. To do otherwise is fatally toxic.

5. Creating effective systems

What systems does the team need to succeed?

In our business, we typically think adding crackerjack listing agents and buyer representatives to the team and keeping them motivated is the route to success. But, it’s shortsighted to stop there. If you’re successful, you’ll soon need more technical, marketing and clerical staff assistance (or equivalent outside service providers) than you ever imagined. (And it will cost more than planned, too!)

Our team took off fast and, after some trial-and-error, we decided our technological, transaction coordination, branding and property marketing needs could best be handled by affiliating with a company (Side), which provides such back-office services.

Having those elements of our business handled by a capable partner has freed our team to focus on providing impeccable client service, which is our core value.

As we grow, we might also decide to bring on more transaction-oriented agents to back up high-volume listing and buyer’s agents. Such licensed assistants would be  tasked primarily with addressing clients’ need for prompt personal attention along with overseeing transaction flow, inspections and other ancillary services.

If you don’t have high-level alternatives in place, clients will clamor for the team leader’s personal attention. And that’s no way to grow a successful team.

6. Finding talent

The second biggest challenge is ridding yourself of the misfires and misfits promptly.

We have found the DISC personality assessment tool helpful in our recruiting. It’s clear where existing team members fit on the DISC grid, and it’s equally clear where complementary team members would fall on this scale.

Involving the team in hiring decisions is also useful — especially when it comes to getting a feel for an individual’s “fit” with them. Excellent training, other team-building meetings and events can also help develop existing talent and increase team cohesion.

Some of us are born teachers. Others (me) are more “lead by example” types. Not everyone benefits from that training “style.” Fortunately my husband Neil, who is our group’s operations manager, comes from a long line of teachers. Plus, he had a successful career in recruiting and employee development for some of the nation’s largest companies. When Neil joined us and brought his expertise and perspective to our operations, he filled a crucial gap in our recruiting and training resources.

Unfortunately, no matter how rigorous your evaluation process or how great your training, some truly gifted agents will turn out to be less than ideal fits for your team or culture. It’s tough when you realize that’s happened to your team. But, this is one of those leadership moments when taking the bull by the horns is the best — if not very fun —path.

If the “fit” issue is something amenable to adjustment, you should, of course, begin such conversations by exploring possible avenues of personal or professional change. Some off-putting behaviors are habits. And those can be fixed. Toxicity, however, can’t be fixed. Your team may already be suffering by the time you notice an individual’s negative impact on everyone else.

No one person, regardless of how productive they are financially, is worth destroying your reputation or your carefully assembled team for. A bad apple really will ruin the entire bunch. So develop your get-them-to-exit strategy, practice “the talk” and bid that person farewell.

And don’t look back.

Nicole Solari is owner and managing broker of The Solari Group in Solano and Napa Counties in Northern California. Nicole runs one of the highest producing brokerages in all of Northern California.

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