Doing More With Small Teams: A Q&A With The Economist’s Sergei Bachtin

Sometimes, when you look behind the scenes at a big-name premium publisher, you find vitally important and complex tasks handled by a shockingly small group of people. Small ops teams aren’t only the domain of fledgling young media companies–although they are certainly a hallmark of those businesses, too.

Being part of a small team can help people build up a diverse set of skills, and offer opportunities for folks to find unexpected strengths and passions through exploration and experimentation. They’re often all-hands-on-deck scenarios. But toggling between so many tasks, and pushing your workload to its greater limits, can be exhausting and disorienting. That said, it’s possible for small teams to thrive and even enjoy the unique challenges they face. (For whatever it’s worth, a former editor of mine on a five-person team told me he learned most of his management skills by doing community theater, a bit of advice I’ll probably never forget.)
Sergei Bachtin from The Economist, where he serves as Director, Global Advertising Operations, will be sharing stories and strategies on fulfilling the potential of a small team on Mon., Nov. 6 at AdMonsters’ Publisher Forum in Nashville. He’s leading an attendee session titled “Doing a Lot With Less–Maximizing Your Small Team’s Output.” To get a preview of the sort of issues and perspectives Sergei will be talking about, we reached out to him and asked a few questions about his management experiences. If you want to go deeper into this discussion, make sure to join us in Nashville next month. For now, here are some guidelines Sergei shared with us:

If you want to increase the productivity of a small team, how much of the strategy relies on understanding human psychology, and how much is about automating processes?

I typically say this to any and all who ask me what is the toughest thing about my job: It’s certainly not the responsibility, or the skill level required, it’s managing people. People, inherently, are unpredictable, so understanding human psychology is paramount. Every decision you make, you have to ask yourself: How will your team react?  Who will be happy, confused, apathetic, angry, vocal, etc.? I believe with a small team it’s 80/20,  80% human psychology and 20% process.

Can you share a few tips for preventing (or delaying) employee burnout?

Tip 1: Don’t be a hands-off boss. Communicate with your team constantly. Ask your team how things are going. What is bogging them down? How can you help? Sometimes just being an outlet for them to vent about anything, really, helps quite a lot. Although you shouldn’t let them take it too far, it can take them down a dark road.

Tip 2: Be an invisible safety net. I say invisible because you don’t want your team to rely too much on you to answer questions or solve problems–they must maintain a level of autonomy.

Tip 3: Fun must be had. Buying your team donuts, lunch, dinner, drinks, etc., always helps to solidify that team spirit.

How do hiring and training processes play into the process of building up the small team that will deliver more?

A robust onboarding process is key to employee retention. I think I’ve nailed down a two-week course that takes a new member through all facets of the business. Being transparent about how other parts of the business come in to play helps the new hire understand that it’s not all button pushing and report pulling. There is a level of creativity to ad operations.