All entrepreneurs know businesses suffer when employees don’t work well together. In a retail setting, poor teamwork can cause problems in lots of different situations — you might see that employees aren’t helping each other on the shop floor or notice that miscommunications between team members frequently lead to tense relationships.
Small business owners are also all too familiar with the difficulty of bringing team members together with the retail industry’s high turnover and seasonal ebbs and flows.
Luckily, taking teamwork and company culture seriously is a great way to keep top employees around, create an excellent work environment, and run a successful, thriving business in the long term. This article breaks down eight easy steps retail management can take to improve your retail teamwork, so let’s discover how you can get your staff members working together seamlessly.
How to improve retail teamwork in 8 easy steps
Start by asking yourself these simple questions once in a while:
- What are some things my team is doing well?
- What are some things my team isn’t doing well?
- How can I help my team improve?
You don’t have to be in crisis mode to reflect on what your team needs and what strategies you can apply to improve teamwork, and it’s likely that any answer that pops into your mind will come down to two basic things:
Here are some examples:
- Motivation problem: Bill notices some tomatoes are moldy. He doesn’t feel like it’s a big deal, so he lazily hides them under the others and doesn’t say anything to the floor manager. When another team member needs those tomatoes for an order later on, they inevitably run into problems. That’s how a lack of motivation can have a snowball effect on both your team and your customers.
- Communication problem: Two of your employees are arguing about shipment dates. Neither of them is offering up a solution because they both want to prove the other wrong. A team member dispute like this one can result in shipment delays and empty store shelves. That’s why communication and common goals are key components of successful teamwork.
- Motivation and communication problem: Melissa found a job at a shop down the street because she felt that other staff members weren’t pulling their weight. Employees don’t always openly share their grievances, especially not with management. Due to poor teamwork, you could be left short-handed, frustrated, and with employees seeking employment elsewhere before you can address their issues.
- Communication problem: Seb skips steps on his morning checklist, which he’s been doing for months and is second nature to him. He assumed his checklist steps didn’t have an impact on others, but as a result, his teammates behind the bar will need to mix juices and buy extra stock on short notice. Small issues like those can lead to major stress for everyone working during the evening rush. If Seb had communicated with his team more effectively, he could have improved both internal operations and customer experience.
Now, let’s look at the ways you can resolve these common teamwork issues to get everyone on the same page and working together effectively.
1. Reflect on how your team is working together regularly
Let’s explore the above examples more in-depth in order to understand how they might affect your team, starting with those two employees arguing about shipment dates.
If you haven’t reflected on how well your team has been working together recently, that issue might initially seem like it’s only about dates and shipments on the surface. You might have come up with a temporary solution but didn’t get to the root of the issue. Disputes over seemingly easy-to-resolve issues usually stem from something deeper like process problems or strained relationships. Something like a conflict between employees may have started long ago and quietly grown out of proportion until it hit a breaking point.
Using tools like Homebase’s free messenger app at your disposal to make it easier for our team to communicate with each other before issues arise. You should also consider scheduling regular private one-on-one check-ins with team members to encourage open conversations and address any problems that come up. Be mindful of listening more than talking in these situations and encourage the other person to share freely.
2. Encourage individuals to voice their concerns and address them head-on
Let’s dive deeper into the example of Melissa, who ended up finding a new position due to issues she kept to herself. Why did she quit her job? Employees need to feel like they can voice their concerns, whether personal or work-related. And they need to know they’re being heard.
It’s possible that any number of teamwork-related issues lead Melissa to look for work elsewhere: Interpersonal issues, others not pulling their weight, and scheduling conflicts can all be reasons for employees to quit. And let’s suppose she didn’t feel comfortable bringing up the problems she was facing with her manager before handing in her notice.
Scheduling regular, informal chats with employees can be a great way to nip these kinds of issues in the bud. Ask team members if they have any questions or concerns they’d like to discuss and let them know that they can speak freely. If Melissa had brought her concerns to her manager’s attention, things might have gone differently.
Using scheduling tools to set up regular chats with team members can help make this process even more streamlined. With Homebase, you can create easy-to-share employee schedules that let people indicate availability, easily switch shifts, and receive notifications about upcoming shifts and work commitments.
3. Consider different leadership styles
There are two approaches to leadership: leading from the front and leading from behind.
Leading from the front is an active, hands-on management style where leaders are involved and present in their business’s day-to-day operations and frequently work hand-in-hand with team members.
Here’s what that looks like:
- Getting involved
- Lending a hand
- Talking to team members as soon as issues come up
- Being there to answer questions and offer support
- Acting proactively instead of reactively
- Trying to anticipate the needs of team members before something happens
On the other hand, leading from behind means letting team members largely manage themselves. It involves a lot of delegating, strategizing, and brainstorming to help optimize teamwork and collaboration without necessarily being present day in and day out.
If leading from the front is a proactive approach to management, leading from behind might make you think of the boss sitting in their glass office on the 72nd floor barking orders at their assistant to pass on to the team.
But far from it, this style of leadership can be implemented in a way that encourages team members to work independently and gives them the confidence to take initiative.
Here’s how a manager can effectively lead from behind:
- Observing how a team operates before implementing changes
- Collecting feedback and input from team members regularly
- Recognizing and rewarding individuals for effort and leadership when they step up (like with an employee of the month program)
- Creating opportunities for growth through workshops and mentorships
There’s more than one right way to lead a team. It’s best to reflect on who you are as a leader and what will work best for your business and team. Either way, encouragement and communication are key factors in bringing individuals together and making sure they thrive working together as a group. That’s how you lead your team like a boss!
4. Listen to and encourage feedback on your leadership
If you’ve recently been hired or promoted into a new manager or supervisor position, then you most likely want to make a good impression on your team and demonstrate your leadership skills by leading from the front.
That said, don’t try to be the new sheriff in town. When you arrive on the scene, chances are your team is already used to certain existing processes, systems, and routines. There’s a rhythm to it, and any radical, immediate changes are likely to be met with resistance. Instead, avoid making snap judgments and collect feedback from everyone to understand what’s working and what’s causing points of friction. Then, use their input to inform any changes you want to implement.
Your team will know their voice matters and that you take their points of view seriously, which goes a long way towards building trust and a transparent company culture employees are invested in.
In short, even if you think a certain leadership style is the right approach and have good intentions with the changes you want to make, sit in the passenger seat for a month or two first.
5. Give employees the tools they need to communicate
We’ve talked a lot about communicating. Now let’s talk about tools that can help keep your team talking about the issues that matter to them.
With Homebase, not only will your employee processes be linked, but team communication will be easy and free. You can message individuals about their schedules directly or let the whole team know about the fun staff activities you planned for the next week, avoiding any bothersome communication problems that can have wide-ranging effects on all staff members.
This is efficient: a way to centralize important information and conversations. It’s also a quick and easy process to set up so you can easily reach out to your team members and make yourself available to them to hear out questions and concerns.
6. Organize team-building exercises
Speaking of team-building exercises, they’re powerful tools to improve teamwork! Talk to your team and find out the kind of activities they enjoy doing in their personal and professional lives.
Here are a few examples of exercises you can try in order to promote retail teamwork:
- Low-Tech Social Network: Ask team members to talk about individual colleagues to show how well they know each other.
- Shark Tank: Mock shark tank to share entrepreneurial ideas (and a great way to come up with new ideas for your business).
- Office Trivia: Everyone’s favorite knowledge-based game to play in teams.
- Tied Together: Tie teammates together by the wrists and have to complete a series of tasks.
Always choose your team-building activities with purpose. They can be used to improve four main (pain) points:
7. Provide group training
Many retail business owners make the mistake of training employees individually rather than in groups. They think team members can learn visual merchandising, store workflows, how to operate a point of sale system (POS), customer support, pricing, and inventory management by themselves just as effectively as they would with their team.
While it’s true that certain aspects of employee training can be delivered individually without any issues, there are some serious benefits to training employees as a group:
- Showcase different ways of doing things: Different employees do the same tasks in their own unique way. While no one approach is necessarily better or worse, group training sessions are a great environment for employees to be exposed to different ways of working.
- Make training sessions more dynamic: Let’s face it, training workshops can be boring if they only consist of a manager talking to a team member for an hour or two. Having a group of staff members participate together makes for a more fun, lively dynamic. You’ll be able to have more multifaceted conversations and benefit from hearing different questions, perspectives, and tips.
- Help team members get to know each other: Team members often don’t have time to get to know each other on shift while working in busy retail stores, so group training sessions can be great, calmer places where they can build their professional relationships.
Best of all, you can use a handy tool like Homebase to schedule regular group training sessions. You’ll be able to easily check employee availability and pick a time that will suit the largest number of staff members, as well as send out helpful reminders so no one forgets about an upcoming workshop or event.
8. Confront conflict, don’t stick your head in the sand
Don’t be afraid of conflict. There are managers who would prefer to avoid it at all costs — let’s call this the ostrich approach.
Of course, the problem is that ostriches never see what’s happening around them. Wanting to keep everybody happy is an admirable goal, but doing so by avoiding conflict is like applying a band-aid to a broken arm and is ultimately a disservice to your team.
Your role as a boss is to take charge, even in difficult or uncomfortable situations. It might be tempting to delay dealing with problems or having tricky conversations, but leaders are responsible for guiding their teams and making difficult decisions for the benefit of all.
Kicking the can down the road often makes issues worse and results in more complicated consequences in the long run — it’s best to deal with them calmly, professionally, and swiftly.
Optimizing retail teamwork is about putting in the work
Strong teamwork takes time and effort: Be present for your team, put in the work, and the result will be more than worth it. To recap, the two most important ways to improve teamwork are:
- Communication: Talk to your team, listen to your employees, and nurture good communication (using a tool like Homebase can help!)
- Motivation: Organize some team-building exercises and don’t be afraid to address issues as they arise. A little encouragement when you see good teamwork goes a long way.
All in all, get creative, support your people, and find the best ways to get people working together and enjoying each other’s company. A team-building exercise can be done outside of the breakroom. Organize a day to enjoy some outdoor activities together. Campfire stories are best told around a real campfire, after all! The exact activity doesn’t matter as long as you consider the needs of your team and reward employees for their effort. Everything you do to improve teamwork will boost your retail business in return.