Designing a Minimalist Team

There are two major ideas in the world of business.

One is to stay small and do everything yourself, which is the Solopreneur. This is what Robert Kiyosaki in the book Rich Dad Poor Dad calls being stuck. “If you want it done right, you gotta do it yourself.”

The other is to grow, grow, grow, like a giant business, get more funding, more customers.

In between is a Minimalist Business. A business where you run on a team that is just the right size for what needs to be accomplished. Small enough to be lean and make adjustments, and not too small that everyone gets burnt out, or everything is just on one person’s responsibility.

There are over 22 million solo-person businesses in the U.S. I’ve done this now for 9 years, and I can say that after a while, it just gets tiring. There are tasks which drain me, and still tasks which I love. To keep your business sustainable yet lean, you need to find people who can compliment your strengths and take over on your weaknesses.

Start by filling positions in the areas you loathe doing. Build a system, design processes and checklists, then find someone who loves doing those tasks.

A minimalist business is one that is 3 to 5 people. That’s because larger teams become inefficient and start to add layers of beuracracy. But teams that are too small can be spread then, without enough support or redundancy. There should be back-ups. People get sick, they get tired, burnt out, need breaks, or need help during busy times. So if the business is just 1 or 2 people, your unit, pod or team will be unreliable at times. This concept I’ve seen from the book Team of Teams written by General Stanley McChrystal, as well as other organizations which create lean, minimalist systems.

Create a strong minimalist unit of people by creating pods of 3 to 5, where each person is in the role that fits their strengths the best. The, work on perfect that pod or unit as much as possible so that it becomes more efficient, more profitable, and that the team supports and builds itself.

A business owner often times screws up the unit by adding in what Michael E. Gerber in “The E-Myth Revisited” as “The Entreprenurial Mind.” The entreprenuer comes in with 100 new ideas per day, then inserts himself or herself and starts changing the business model over and over, as if it were a start-up trying to figure out the business model.

But once the business model is figured out, the business owner needs to flip the switch and allow the model, the unit, the pod, or the system of processes to run itself, only making minor tweaks as needed (with approval of the entire team). This is what author Verne Harnish, known for his book Scaling Up, constantly says about “what got you here won’t get you there.” The business owner does everything they can to find a business model that works. But to get to the sustainable, minimalist business, you will then have to apply a new methodology of maintaining the system. Make adjustments as needed, as Mike Michalowicz says in his book Clockwork on the chapter called “Keep an eye on your business” by developing metrics, a scoreboard or using simple numbers (like in the book The Great Game of Business) where you make sure the business is healthy through metrics such as: How many people are on the team, how many projects or products can that team make per month, how many new customers are coming in, how many customers are happy using the Net Promoter Score, etc.

Once the model is figured out, let the business sustain itself. What is nice about a Minimalist Business is that once the unit is figure out, you simply maintain it. Like a garden that is filled out. Once the garden fills out the alloted space in the Garden, you simply prune, water and maintain the garden. Pull out weeds, make adjustments and plant new trees when old ones die. Maintain the business and keep your eye on it on a weekly or daily basis using metrics. This is what author Paul Jarvis in his book The Company of One means when he says “Build a business that is enough.” A garden which grows, grows, grows eventually becomes sloppy and unproductive. The plants overcome each other, and becomes cause. Build a business, or a garden, which uses the space properly, and make it beautiful, functional and sustaining, with a few gardeners watching over it and taking care of it to create a beautiful, healthy plot.