I’ve spent a lot of time in the restaurant and foodservice industry, as an entrepreneur and founding partner, a president of a multi-unit chain, and as a consultant. One of the things I’ve learned throughout my career is my love of working with teams to help solve problems and overcome challenges.

What I have found is that the key to any business is the people and the importance of setting them up for success. Everyone has a true genius, they just don’t spend enough time working on their strengths. Instead, they choose to focus on their opportunities—or the “next thing” as they climb the ladder to achieve their goals.

While working to see their next opportunity come to fruition, the real magic lies in working toward the continued development of their strengths and passions. If they continue in this way, executive leaders and their teams are less likely to get stuck and more likely to keep moving forward. What teams are passionate about is where they excel and where the majority of key stakeholders prefer to spend their time.

For example, if an operator has 15 restaurants and several are exceeding expectations while a few others are failing to thrive, work to build on the successful locations rather than spend time and energy on the ones losing money. This shift in focus will generate a more positive outlook for teams because they are building on what works rather than focusing on what doesn’t. It will also provide a much greater return on investment because it is much easier to drive increases in revenue in profit from winning locations than it is from underperforming locations. If you spend your time on locations that can have a lasting impact on the community and employees, everyone wins and works together.

This mindset—and having it permeate throughout your organization—is how brands build culture. You can’t copy culture, but you can create it. When you do, everyone is following the same set of standards and objectives, and everyone is sharing in the process of making a restaurant concept, regardless of the number of locations—a success. This means having the right people in the right roles and make sure the people you hire are handling the right responsibilities for their job level. When you do that, you are truly creating a team.

I am a firm believer in teamwork and I have seen teamwork create great results for the concepts I have been an intimate part of or consulted with. However, I also have seen some pretty big obstacles to teamwork. Below are a few:

Ego. Some cultures are more focused on the self rather than the team, but it’s important to remember that everyone plays a role. A lot of times, what gets rewarded in companies is individual success and not the goals that the team has accomplished. Give the team credit and celebrate their victories.

Not having the right players in the correct positions. It’s easy to promote people who have done a good job; however, some promotions mean individuals are tasked with objectives that do not play into their strengths. Make sure you have the right people in the right positions.

Objectives that change daily. When you have team goals it is important to stay on track to ensure those goals are accomplished. Many entrepreneurs change focus daily and expect everyone on the team to shift along with them. This is a recipe for disaster. Stay on track and don’t lose focus of your true objectives. Stick with what has been established as long term goals.

While these barriers to team work can be overcome, what’s needed for true success lies in four simple business truths:

Be truly open to everyone’s viewpoint. If anything, the most successful people are open to ideas other than their own. If the leader champions everything, nothing will get done. The more leaders can get someone else to champion an idea, the better. So, it’s being open to ideas and also allowing others to champion an idea and run with it. This requires a certain level of humility and less emphasis on individual egos.

Celebrate the diversity of your people. By having a diverse team, you are getting absolutely the best perspectives. If you hire of bunch of people like you, you’re building a team of nothing more than a handful of people that think like you. Diversity comes not just from race and gender, but also age and lifestyles. Having diversity means you will have much stronger points of view to choose from in terms of making decisions. 

Treat each other with respect. That means really giving everyone an opportunity to speak without shutting them down. It also means getting everyone’s perspective on what should be done. There are so many different ways to be successful but most of us only know a few – in terms of people, you really have to listen. Sometimes, what seems like the dumbest idea is the most successful—but you need to be brave and you have to be brave. You need to have those bold ideas out there and you need to debate them. This means giving people the ability to express their ideas and opinions without fear.

Do what you say you’re going to do. It’s amazing how many people do no not do this. In the right culture, everything is about commitments, timelines and measurements, because you want to know when you eventually do win. Everyone needs to have their responsibilities and timelines and understand you have to depend on each other to be successful. If only one person is carrying the burden, you have the wrong people on the team. Establish clear objectives and dates and deadlines, and do not get distracted. Look for consistent excellence, rather than perfection, in everything that gets done. Lack of stability is what sidelines most companies in the restaurant business. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to sometimes course correct, but when you do, communicate it so everyone knows what’s going on.

It all comes down to priorities in the end. Break the big boulder, work on your top objectives and clarify what the true problem is, if one exists. Then, work on that problem rather than solve for the minor ones. Great leaders have the ability to bring their teams together and foster team work, but it’s important the message is clear: we win as a team or we lose as a team. And as far as I’m concerned, losing should never be an option. If you can get your entire team to buy into that mindset, you’re truly creating something special and complimentary to the brand.

Larry Reinstein is president of LJR Hospitality Ventures, a consulting firm that provides profitable and executable solutions to private equity firms, and owners and operators of restaurant companies. In addition to serving on boards, services include performing operational due diligence for private equity and family offices. Previously, Reinstein was president of Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina and was a founder, president and CEO of Fresh Concepts, a multi-concept restaurant and catering company. He led the creation of Fresh City in 1998, a healthy lifestyle brand.
Employee Management, Outside Insights, Story