Do you wish your employees felt more energized and engaged? Would you like them to be on the same page and fully aligned with your goals? Your business success depends on your ability to align and develop the people who work for you. High-performance teams are built intentionally by leaders who understand the three essential components of growth: alignment, development, and transition.

Natalie Dawson’s new book, TeamWork, breaks each of these components down into actionable processes with steps you could take immediately to start making a difference today. You’ll see how to create teams that work the way you want them to and then you’ll discover ways to scale those teams, keeping them aligned with your objectives and with each other as your business grows.

If you want teams to excel, TeamWork can fast-track your path to a winning business with a thriving culture.

Hey Listeners, my name is Drew Appelbaum and I’m excited to be here today with Natalie Dawson, author of TeamWork: How to Build a High-Performance Team. Natalie, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.

Natalie Dawson: Thank you for having me, Drew. I’m excited to talk about this book.

Drew Appelbaum: Great! Well, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself first, maybe just give us a brief rundown of your professional background?

Natalie Dawson: Yeah, for sure. I have been working in the management consulting space for over a decade now and I primarily have helped small business owners with around a million in annual revenue, grow from a million to five million. Some businesses have come in and they’re already doing five million and then we help them scale and grow to 15.

My experience is around, how do you take a business owner who doesn’t have a lot of experience growing a team— they’re really great at what they do. They’re technicians, they’re medical professionals, they’re lawyers, they own a brick-and-mortar business where the thing that they did is what allowed revenue to be generated initially, but all of a sudden, they have to move out of the thing that they do and learn— how do I develop a team that can help me so that I’m not trapped by the business that I once dreamed of, but has now turned into a nightmare with all of the requirements that it takes in order to run a business?

Building a Business That People Want to Be a Part Of

Drew Appelbaum: Why was now the time to share the stories in the book? Did you have an “aha” moment? Was there something really inspiring out there for you?

Natalie Dawson: You know, my parents are both small business owners, they’re both in the medical profession and I grew up learning the challenges that come with growing businesses and having what’s called a work-life balance, although many entrepreneurs don’t really understand what that is. As COVID hit last year, I watched, with the rest of the world, so many businesses get shut down, have to let team members go and the entire world of work pivoted and shifted and it’s still pivoting.

The timing of this book was really surrounded around my experience around helping business owners grow but also this new world of work that we’re venturing into and how do you prepare entrepreneurs to make these changes to their culture. You know in August, 4.3 million workers just walked out of their jobs, they quit.

What we know about those people are they’re going to go start new businesses, they’re going to go out on their own. And this funny thing that happens is you think that it’s easy to be a business owner, but people who have owned their own business for a long time know that you have to crack this thing called teamwork.

You have to figure out, at some point in your entrepreneurial journey— unless you’re going to be doing what you’re doing for the rest of your life all by yourself— you have to figure out how to build a team and how to keep a team inspired and how to grow them and how to see, how to teach them to see that the opportunity to work with you is the greatest opportunity that they can have and that you’re developing them and that you’re a true leader.

Right now seemed especially important to give business owners these tools because we don’t see the numbers going down any time soon of people starting their own businesses. But if you’re starting your own business, you might as well do it right the first time so that you can do something different from the business that you might have been working in, where you left your job because the pay sucked and you were struggling to enjoy the work that you were doing and you didn’t really see an opportunity for you to grow in that environment, which is likely why you left to begin with.

Drew Appelbaum: Who exactly are you writing this book for? When you really put the pen to paper and you were thinking about who exactly you wanted to help with this book, is this a new entrepreneur, is for established businesses, different sized businesses?

Natalie Dawson: This book was primarily written for business owners who have anywhere from two to 15 team members who have the aspiration to build a big business. This book is not for somebody who wants to stay small. This is not for somebody who is interested in only working for themselves, being a solopreneur, because it’s all about building a team.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, did you do a lot of outside research for the book or is most of this just lessons learned throughout your experiences growing teams and with other businesses?

Natalie Dawson: It’s mostly through my experience, but the experience is right now through Cardone Ventures. I’ve hired personally over 150 team members to our business, it’s been a startup over the last two and a half years. I’ve helped business owners, thousands of business owners, over the last two and a half years since the startup started and I’m in the thick of it with their teams. I’m understanding what the challenges are with hiring, what the challenges are with the development process.

I didn’t consult any outsourced research, but I am a subject matter expert on what the real world of work looks like right now in real-time with business owners all across the world who are coming up against these natural challenges and it’s not to say that there are perfect solutions for these challenges.

In the book, I’m not going to solve the fact that 4.3 million workers quit, but I’m teaching business owners, how do you build a business that people want to be a part of. That starts with your team, and most business owners think that it starts with the clients. And the clients, you need to attract the right client. You have to figure out your persona, but this is not a marketing book. This is a book for how to get your team, the right team, engaged so that it bleeds over to getting the right customers, getting the right clients to build a business that really does work for the person who started it.

Also, provides opportunity for individuals who need it. I mean, quite honestly, the workforce right now, every single person is in need of the right mentors, and I don’t think business owners oftentimes think of themselves as mentors or coaches. The boss title definitely kicks in, and instead of thinking of yourself as a boss if you were to pivot to, “Okay, I’m a coach”, what does a coach for a team member really look like? Nobody has written that playbook, and that is what TeamWork is all about.

Drew Appelbaum: How does a business benefit from stronger teamwork? I love that you dive into the book and talk about this where you could have great employees and you could consider yourself a great leader, but that doesn’t actually mean that you’re a strong team.

Natalie Dawson: Well, the cost of a bad hire— I mean, if you don’t know how to properly hire a team member, the statistics show that it’s about 30% of the individual’s first year expected earnings that go to waste in the form of training if you don’t have the right team member and you’re not skilled in choosing. I’ve had to interview thousands of team members to where I’d say I’m pretty good at it at this point, I know who is going to fit, I know who is not.

A small business, if you’re only hiring or if you’re only interviewing maybe 10 employees throughout any given year, you’re really not going to know what the right important questions are to ask but also, what you’re looking for because your current expectations are entirely built off of the past performance. And if the past performance is a team member who worked with you that wasn’t very successful and was kind of average in your business, all of a sudden, the benchmark you might be putting it too low, and the right hire is never going to be interested in working with you.

The bigger benefit is, once you find the right team member and the right group of team members, you should be able to continue to paint the picture and look into the future and really dream about how you grow a business while you have a team that is by your side, helping you move the business forward, not frustrated that there might be a new idea or not enthused or excited when you’re looking to take the hill and they’re feeling like, “Man, why would we even do this?”

The right team is going to help propel a business owner to capitalize on the opportunities that exist in every single marketplace. I’ve never come across a business in my 10 years of experience that doesn’t have the opportunity to grow. If you pivot your thinking to, I’m going to have a growth mindset and it’s important for me to grow my business. In order to do that, without you having to do more work, you have to find team members who are excited about that kind of work, but also see what the true opportunity is.

If you’re able to find those team members, more importantly, when you’re able to find those team members, business becomes easy. It becomes fun, it becomes exciting and, even though you’re in the trenches, this is not one of those quick-fix books, right?

I’m not saying that as an entrepreneur, if they’re listening to this right now, I’m not saying that you’re going to not work 60 hours a week or 70 hours a week building your business. You will still need to work hard, however, you’re working alongside people that you’re excited to be in the trenches with and who are lifting you and helping push you to where your potential is, instead of pulling you away from the target and maybe making you even feel like you’re silly for thinking that you can go accomplish what you want to accomplish.

Implementing Your Company’s Values, From Onboarding and Beyond

Drew Appelbaum: Let’s talk about onboarding. Let’s say you’ve hired the right person, or what you think is the right person, but onboarding can always be hit or miss. Can you talk about some maybe proper onboarding strategies and especially now in this hybrid sort of remote world?

Natalie Dawson: For sure. Onboarding is something I am incredibly passionate about, because it really is setting the expectations for what work with you looks like. If you are saying that you want to build a high-performance team and that you are growth-oriented and you say all of these things in the interview process but when the employee has their first day and then their first week and then their first month, and then there isn’t a lot of structure, you’re actually undermining what you said when you told them that you’re innovative and that you’re high performing, that you have high expectations and that there’s a lot of growth here. Because, if all of those things were true, there would be a clear path for them to fully get up to speed on everything that they would need to know in order to be successful in your business. 

One of the tips, one of the many tips in the book that I talk about, is how can you incorporate books into your onboarding. As a business owner, you likely have read many books in order for you to guide your thinking around opportunity or to guide your thinking around sales or marketing. Knowing that those books have made an impact on you, it is a really impactful way to get the rest of the people that you are relying on, that you are joining as a team, to be on the same page, no pun intended, with what your philosophies are around these things. If it made an impact on you, it will make an impact on the team that you’re looking to build, and I definitely recommend utilizing books. In our organization, there are four books that every single new hire reads within the first month. 

That in it of itself is raising the bar, because if you’re somebody who has not read the book prior to joining our organization within the last year, when we tell you in the interview process, “Hey, this is what onboarding looks like, you are going to read four books in four weeks.” If you’re not the right person, you are going to be terrified of that, and we’re going to shoo you away from that opportunity, whereas if you are the right person, that’s exciting for you. 

Drew Appelbaum: Let’s move on to company values as company values, they’re a hot topic these days but still companies have a hard time either just narrowing down or implementing these company values. So, for an established company, maybe they are looking to just rebrand a little bit or establish a new value system. What are the best ways to get started and figure out what exactly you should be aiming for? 

Natalie Dawson: The best way to get started with defining values is to understand why values are important. Values oftentimes get mixed up with marketing messages and in the book, I talk through the difference between your marketing core values versus your internal employee-related core values because think of it, they’re different people. The person you’re marketing to is not the person that you are ideally looking to bring on board as a team member of yours. 

Once you get clear on, “Okay, what are the values of this organization?” then you can start to understand, “Okay, well, being innovative might not actually be the responsibility for every single person in this organization. I don’t know that I want every role innovating their job every single day and me holding them to that standard.” 

Once you kind of get the clarity around, “I am looking to use these values as a filtering mechanism for the people in my environment”, then the easiest way to start chucking away at getting some good ideas, is think about your best team members and then think about team members that you’ve worked within the past that have just been terrible, that you would never want to rehire. 

When you look at the positive list and the negative list, how can you surmise, like what really you value in a key contributor that you’re looking to duplicate over and over and over again? Ideally, you don’t want to duplicate the bad, right? You’re not wanting to rehire the person who just never could manage to send their report on time every single week, it’s an excuse as to, “Oh, I meant to send it, but then there was this issue and then I forgot, and I will get it in next week.” 

You don’t want to have to follow up with that person, so in that scenario if you had that experience, maybe you really value discipline. Discipline being you do the things you say that you’re going to do. If you are more lackadaisical in your environment and it doesn’t bother you as much, discipline likely would not be your core value, but once you have that established, all of a sudden, you’re going to have a pretty good understanding of what kind of organization you’re looking to build through good experiences, and then also using the negative ones as well. 

Drew Appelbaum: You actually dive into meetings in the book as well. One-on-ones, team meetings, daily meetings, quarterly meetings. It’s a pretty hot topic because some people really love them, and some folks think they are a huge waste of time. Tell us how have the companies that you work with, how have they gone out and built successful meetings that just kind of bring about positive change and positive teamwork?

Natalie Dawson: For sure. Well, I get passionate about certain types of meetings because I am with most people that you know, meetings for meeting’s sake that don’t have clear agendas are a complete waste of time. They are a complete waste of an organization’s resources, but there are certain organization-wide meetings that should be taking place in order to get the right people the right information. 

One of the ones that I am most passionate about is the quarterly team meeting. A quarterly team meeting, if you have any aspirations of being a large organization, you should look at and study what do large organizations do, what do public companies do. Well, they have to give shareholders, on a quarterly basis, updates and why did they do this? So that they can keep everybody informed, so that they can provide clarity about what has happened in the past but also what the future is going to look like. 

That quarterly cadence does give this great timeframe for people to understand, “Okay, this is when change happens. We do 90-day sprints of we are heads down, moving forward towards the priority and in 90 days from now, we either got closer to our goal or we’re further away from it.” And so, your ability when you’re a small organization to get this discipline in with your financials, with your operations, with clarifying what your marketing message is for this upcoming quarter gets your entire team so aligned that then, for those next 90 days, everybody is executing to the plan that’s been laid out. 

If you don’t align them and then as a business owner, small business owners do this every day, they walk into the office and they say, “Oh, today we’re going to be doing this” and every single thing feels like a fire. It feels like there’s madness and chaos and it’s always dependent upon somebody, it’s normally the leader, coming in and making it feel like there is a total redirection. 

If you’re able to create clarity and you’re able to think through, “What is the right way to communicate?” based on what other successful organizations do, implementing this quarterly team meeting cadence is the right way for you to go, and then it is just a matter of, okay, how do you figure out what to say at these things and how do you get better at it so that your team is all on the same page, moving in the same direction and you’re not frustrated when there’s lack of clarity around targets and where the business is going. 

Drew Appelbaum: You do offer resources along the way in the book. You have core values assessments; you have employee development plans, and you also have a companion website with the book where you have even more resources there. Could you talk to readers and listeners about what they can expect to find on your website? 

Natalie Dawson: For sure. Here’s the deal with this entire book: when I started, I had nobody layout for me how to set up the proper system and it was a long journey when I started leading team members. I made so many mistakes and, in the book, I decided to compile all of the forms that I use every single day in order to run the business that we have now, and I’ve offered this at thenataliedawson.com/bonus. 

If you purchase the book then you’re able to get the download that just gives you these forms so that you don’t have to recreate the wheel, you don’t have to wonder, “Am I missing something?” or, “Is there something that I should be, or that I should not be including in team discussions?” and I take out all of the fluff that isn’t necessary to build a great team. 

Now, can you add things to it? Sure. But my entire goal was to strip out the things that you really do not have to do, or that consultants have told you in the past that you should be adding, that’s really complexity, to something that can be so simple and efficiently executed by business owners, regardless of their size, but especially in that sweet spot of between five to 15 employees with the target of adding 50 or a 100 or whatever your dreams might be around how large your organization can go. 

The beautiful part about these forms and the resources that are in the book is you can use them up to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of employees. It is not just for a 15-person organization, so they do scale with the business. I use the same forms that I put in there on day two of our organization as I do now with 77 team members and we’re hitting our revenue targets for this year as well, which we’re doing very well. 

I want to be able to extend this exact same offering to other small businesses so that they don’t get confused in what seems like a chaotic way of learning and growing, how to make a scalable business. 

Drew Appelbaum: Well, Natalie, we just touched on the surface of the book here but just writing a book to help small business owners and their employees succeed and grow is no small feat, so congratulations on having your book published. 

Natalie Dawson: Thank you. 

Drew Appelbaum: This has been a pleasure and I’m excited for people to go check out the book. Everyone, the book is called, TeamWork, and you could find it on Amazon. Natalie, besides checking out the book and, if you could give us your website, where else besides the book and the website can people connect with you? 

Natalie Dawson: Yeah, they can connect with me at thenataliedawson.com, and there, I have a handful of free resources for building your small business and so, whether it’s the book that will ideally lead to continuing to grow, the website has all sorts of information on the different challenges that business owners face in growing and creating a high-performance team. 

Drew Appelbaum: Well, Natalie, thank you so much for giving us some of your time today, and best of luck with your new book. 

Natalie Dawson: Thank you.