High Risk, High Reward: What to Expect When Managing A Lean Team

Kaser Blasting & Coatings finds itself in a strange position these days. On one hand, I’ve been hiring like crazy and the team is bigger than it has ever been; on the other hand, our incoming workload is through the roof. We’re running out of space to store parts, and if we magically had double the hands in the shop, we’d still struggle to coat it all in time.

Normally, this is my sweet spot. I’ve always operated with a lean team, because it’s what I prefer. I enjoy the challenge of accomplishing more than anyone expects, and I surround myself with people who feel the same way.

The rewards have been amazing. What we’ve lacked in bodies, we’ve made up for in skill, experience, and hard work. We’ve been overachieving for the better part of a decade, and I’m extremely proud of my team’s productivity and expertise.

But it is not without risks. Managers, take note: if you’re running a lean team, here’s what you’re gambling with.

Cold and flu season takes a toll. When your output relies on each and every person giving 110%, it follows that the production schedule will take a hit whenever someone calls in sick. This winter has seemed especially brutal – I don’t remember the last time Kaser went a full week with everyone healthy.

Exhaustion equals rework. People can only fire on all cylinders for so long before they get tired, and a tired team makes mistakes. If your busy season is lasting unusually long (like ours is lately), consider putting some additional safeguards in place to help catch errors before they leave the lot.

The big picture gets harder to see. The busier Kaser gets, the more of my attention goes to managing the day-to-day grind. I’m constantly scheduling, rescheduling, fixing equipment, and filling in where I’m needed. It gets hard to see the forest for the trees. I have to remind myself to zoom out from time to time, and think about the future.

If I could go back in time, I would tell 2020 Jase that while things did slow down a bit during the pandemic, they would ramp up again, sooner and more dramatically than I could’ve imagined. Had I known that, I would’ve pushed to hire more people much sooner. I love a lean team, but lately, we’ve been lean to the point of starvation, and that’s not sustainable. 



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