Team building and Leadership: Lessons for challenging times

By Matt Rolfe

We’re currently in the midst of one of the most challenging times for operators over the last decade. Costs and competition continue to rise and the fight for strong leaders or managers is more aggressive than ever. The key to transitioning through these challenging times is creating a plan and taking action quickly. When times are tough and decisions need to be made, true leaders and cohesive teams will shine.

Team Connection Rhythm

This may sound very simple to some, but it’s not common practice for many leaders today. It is important to create a clear plan to ensure everyone on your team is aligned. Frequently holding meetings will aid in this process. It’ll keep communication fluid and constant. Every owner or leader needs to focus on creating and reinforcing clarity. When you think you’re over-communicating your plan, you’re actually just getting started! Remember to keep reiterating it to ensure everyone on your team is clear and aligned.

The perfect forum for creating, aligning, tracking and discussing progress is in your weekly and monthly meetings. (You are having weekly and monthly meetings, right?) I have personally studied the importance and dynamics of meeting rhythms for several years and based on my experience. Optimally, you and your team can hold two hour meetings every week, a day-long meeting every month and a one-and-a-half to two-day meeting every quarter. The best performing teams in our industry have regular meetings, with well thought-out agendas, and have the critical conversations that keep their businesses moving forward.

Your Team Needs a Leader

During challenging times, your business needs you to show up and lead the team regardless whether you’re the owner, regional manager, GM or chef. During times of uncertainty, people desperately need to be lead and need to hear a consistent message from the leader and alignment across the leadership team.

Alignment is not only about the speech you deliver, but about your body language and how you show up. I have a unique poster in my office of an opera quote that says: “Be responsible for the energy you bring to this space.” This message could not be more critical for the leaders in our industry today. It is obvious our industry experiences very long working hours and the imbalance many of us have with our family and friends can easily create negative energy, which can be reflected in our operations and onto our teams.

From personal experience, not being in the right state when leading my own team has previously created disconnection and unnecessary tension. Many of us are very strong leaders and may not be aware of the impact we have on a room, positively or negatively, based on our energy and emotions. I often ask my clients to reflect on decisions they have made when they were stressed and overwhelmed against decisions they made when they were clear and grounded. Take a step back today and think about the impact you and your energy have on your team. Consider keeping a journal. It’ll help you log all the things that went right alongside the five to 10 per cent of things that went wrong, which too often ends up being the sole focus.

Make a Commitment to Your Personal Development

If we’re not growing, we’re dying. That may sound like an aggressive statement, but my intention is to create a spark in anyone who is reading this article. What is your personal development goal for this year? Do you have a list of books you’re going to read? TED Talks you’re going to watch? Conferences you’re going to attend? Courses you’re going to complete? Mentors you’re going to work with? These are all part of your personal development.

As our businesses thrive, we need to continue to grow as leaders at the same pace if not faster. Most of us are too busy working in our operation that we feel we don’t have the time to work on ourselves, which is one of the biggest challenges in our industry today. I’ve connected with many leaders that carry a lot of guilt because they committed an hour a day to read and two weeks for their team to attend conferences and workshops. I understand how you feel. I know we are all extremely busy, but in times of change and turbulence, it is important we lean into to our personal growth the most.

My recommendation is less about the personal development of your team and more about giving yourself permission and seeing value in investing in yourself. I promise that by doing so you will see how it can change your life — personally and professionally. Get grounded on your perspectives and priorities, and significantly change the energy and state you are in when you are inside your operation. For further information regarding leadership development strategies, plans and options, please email me directly.

Create and Reinforce Clear Outcomes for 2018

Buy copies of Patrick Lencioni’s “The Advantage” and “The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team” and review them with your team. The key to any business is knowing where your team is going and how they can win. Some of you reading this may assume these books are more suited towards the corporate world rather than our hospitality industry, but that could not be further from the truth.

The key to having a successful 2018 is creating a clear vision so your team knows where to apply their energy on a daily and weekly basis. Many leaders are going to be looking to cut costs to make their bottom line work this year. I agree that it is critical for your business to have your costs in line, but it can easily shift the staff’s focus away from what truly matters for most if that dominates your team’s focus. The guest experience is what matters most! One of the only ways to drive profit this year, after your base costs are controlled, will be increasing your topline sales. This increase will not happen on its own; it will only happen by design.

Recognize and Celebrate!

I spend time every week coaching my clients on how to genuinely recognize their people more often. There has not been a time where I have walked into a restaurant and had staff ask me to get their owners or managers to provide them with less feedback or change. As mentioned previously in this article, our industry has been built on focusing on the five to 10 per cent of things that go wrong every day or week. Operators are simply not giving the other 90 per cent or more of great work the attention that it deserves. This will be the core source of your cultural issues, staff retention woes and ultimately the experience your guest receives. As a leader, you need to create a contagious positive culture. Recognition and celebration is where you can start!

It is time for our leadership teams to look at past patterns and decide if they will lead us successfully into the future. I truly feel that if we want more great service experiences in our operations, we need to recognize great behavior when it happens. It sounds counter-intuitive to many, but I believe that recognition needs to be a process accompanied with feedback, which will result in one of the biggest returns on time for your business.

This article is strictly designed to make you think differently. When strong leaders are clear and grounded, positive results will quickly follow. To get yourself and your team aligned and focused you need to create the time, be present to your emotional state and find ways to continue to grow and develop as a leader.

As the CEO for Results Hospitality and Westshore Hospitality Group, Matt Rolfe is a coach, speaker and hospitality industry thought leader. His company Westshore Hospitality Group focuses on helping leaders and leadership teams in our industry gain the clarity, focus and action needed to run healthy operations. The team at Results Hospitality supports their clients in achieving their desired results when it comes to their people, profits and processes. To learn more about how Matt and his team can assist you and your team please contact him at

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