Making the transition from a large-staff association to a small-staff organization is often not easy. One small-staff veteran shares lessons and hacks she’s gained along the way to make herself a better employee and to build a better workplace culture.
My career has seen me make the transition from a large-staff association to a small-staff organization more than once. But now I feel confident saying that small associations will be home to me until I retire. Here is a look at three lessons I gained from being on staff at a small association.
Ability to prioritize. Since I no longer have a staff team to help me get the job done, I had to develop a keen sense of prioritizing my time, my tasks, and my responsibilities. I learned the value of weekly to-do lists so I can see what “needs” to be done and what I would “like” to get done. These lists also help me to see what I can rearrange or reschedule. Then, at the end of the week, it gives me a sense of fulfillment because I can see what I accomplished during the week and pat myself on the back.
The importance of vendor relationships. I quickly realized that my revenue expectations were big, but the amount of money to realize those expectations was a lot smaller than in my previous large-staff associations. That meant l had to start doing competitive bidding—who wants the job and who can do it at this price. Because of the relationships I created years and years ago, vendors offered creative solutions that met my price points but did not cost me the essence of my project.
Work-life balance. When you have limited hands, you realize you just can’t work, work, work. If you do, you’ll quickly get depleted. This meant that I had to learn balance: So when I left the office, I really left the office. If I was at the gym, I wasn’t at the gym doing work. When I went home to have dinner, I wasn’t eating dinner and doing work. I realized that if I did not take care of me, there would be no me to take care of.
In addition to acquiring these skills, working at a small-staff association also taught me the importance of getting to know and adjusting to your workplace culture.
For instance, I found it was easier to be less public in larger associations—meaning there were not a lot of opportunities for the entire office to meet. It tended to happen once a month at the all-staff meeting. But, when I joined a small association, I saw everyone multiple times a day.
I have also found there is more of a “whole” team concept in small associations. When I worked for the large associations, it was easier to work in silos. But now it’s common for someone from another department to stop by and talk through an idea. And I see our executive director every day that she is in the office.
But I have also found one downside to working for a small-staff association. Telecommuting and flex schedules are difficult to maintain. With a small team, you may be asked to cover the office in someone’s absence. But as the world of work becomes more mobile and tech savvy, even my current small-staff organization has embraced flexible work options: We are no longer an office where everyone comes in at 8:30 a.m. and leaves at 5:00 p.m.
I admit that when I came to my first small-staff association, I felt like I was going to wow them on how I could make them “better.” But 16 years later and currently enjoying my second small-staff experience, I know that what I had to first understand was how things were being done. I could not come in and offend people or the way they did things. Because now that I worked for a “whole team,” I had to slowly make changes and be mindful of how those changes would affect others.