21st April 2022

What I’ve learnt about team management…

Sam Woodman
Managing Director, EMEA
team management

and how you can avoid making the same F*ck Ups

Though we haven’t always been good at showcasing it, Branch Road has grown a lot in the last two years – from a team of five to 17 – and we’re currently hiring for an additional five roles. This means over that time I’ve gone from managing a team of two in Europe to a team of 12. 

I use the term manage in the loosest sense here – we don’t hire people that need to be ‘managed’; we hire people that need advice, support and guidance from those of us who’ve been around the block a few more times than they have!

So, I wanted to jot down what I’ve learnt about team management since joining Branch Road, so you can learn from, and avoid making, the same f*ck ups I did:

1. A square peg will never fit in a round hole

Coming from a PR agency background, I’m a bit of a jack of all trades. I can write a good press release, a strong email, a nifty bit of social copy or organise the hell out of a video shoot. But I’ll never be the best at any of these things.

So, when our first Branch Road hire Dan Plume joined as Head of Content, I thought he should follow my lead. Yes, be Head of Content, but a content writer that also dabbles in project management, video production, PR and the rest. 

Needless to say, I soon realised that square pegs and round holes do not mix – and you shouldn’t want them to! Let content experts write, account managers manage and marketing experts analyse the data.

Good agencies and businesses are not built on people who are average at lots of things – they are built by people who are experts at what they do. When you let people specialise in what they’re good at – rather than trying to force skills that don’t come naturally – they enjoy it more, you learn more as a manager and the clients get better results!

2. If you hire the right people, flexible working always works

We have a great recruiter, but we’ve set her a pretty hard challenge: “Find us candidates that look good on paper and are a clear cultural fit in the first 30 seconds of a chat.”

For us, this means hiring people that want to work because they are eager to lead, want to learn because they are interested in what they do and have respect for the team and clients because they’re human. Or, in the words of Branch Road Founder Simon Cliffe: “People that are nice, don’t act like a d*ck, and are bloody brilliant at their job!”

Hiring people like this means we have a remote and flexible working model that actually works. We don’t require people to come to the office, there are no set working hours, and we all work from any country we want (the last point is partly led by my need for an all-year-round tan).

This model won’t work for every business. But, remember this: you can teach employees new skills but you can’t make them a cultural fit. It either comes naturally or it doesn’t. So, make sure you spend the time to really get to know candidates during the interview process.

3. People know their value better than you do 

You can spend days and weeks in a stuffy boardroom trying to work out your business plan. But the truth is, the direction of your business is not decided by you – it’s dictated by the needs of your clients and the skills of your team. 

Rather than thinking about the value your team can bring to the business, ask them about the value and skills they want to bring. For us, this has taken the form of employees writing the job spec for the job they want at Branch Road in two years time, the milestones for getting there and the salary they think is fair for that role. 

The goal here is to give people choice and autonomy over their career direction. The challenge in many small agencies is that when people outgrow their roles, as the best employees inevitably will, there’s no room for progression unless direct managers leave. 

I am not naïve in thinking everyone will stay at Branch Road forever. But if you give people reasons to leave, they’ll go a lot sooner. So give them a reason to stay instead! 

4. Don’t hire above when your team is already doing the job

I can’t recall when, but I once read a statement which went something like this: “If your business runs smoothly for six months while you’re looking for a manager, you don’t need to hire a manager”.

For me, this statement ran pretty true. Having worked the first five years of my career in structured PR agencies, I was told “Account Managers can’t do budgets” or “only Account Directors do campaign strategy”. I now know this couldn’t be more untrue.  

The right people have the ability to do any task that sits in their area of expertise, regardless of their age, experience or level. Over the last two years, I’ve watched a Content Writer become Head of Content (managing a team of four) and Account Managers step up to run strategy, budgets and (soon) new team members across multiple accounts. 

So, what have a learnt about team management?

If you let people play to their strengths and do the work they enjoy, they’ll do it better than you can. And if you let people step up, they can and will!  So, take a step back and let them!

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