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6 Problems SMEs Face in Distributed Settings & How to Solve Them

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are organizations averaging between 30 and 250 employees. According to the World Bank, SMEs account for the majority of businesses worldwide. They are key drivers of both job creation and economic development, representing ~90% of businesses and over 50% of global employment.

At Cosmic Centaurs, we regularly work with SMEs to sustain or grow their businesses, and in this article, we share how we work with leaders and teams at SMEs to diagnose and solve some of the common challenges facing organizations of this size.

Challenge #1 - Difficulties with streamlining processes

According to Kaufman Rossin, a common challenge for SMEs is a lack of clear and documented ways of work for various processes related to knowledge creation and management. This includes operational processes related to specific tasks or jobs, as well as shared processes including giving feedback and conducting performance reviews. When disjointed, these processes inhibit performance and collaboration but when processes are streamlined, the data shows that companies can increase their ROI by 41% in one year alone.

At Cosmic Centaurs, we work with team leads and team members to list key processes that are essential to value creation in the business. Our goal is to improve existing processes, identify new ones to be implemented, or render some processes obsolete.

Once we’ve agreed on the way forward, we work hand in hand with teams to improve, document, and roll out these processes and set a cadence for reviewing them. (See Fig. 1) In doing so, we have been able to bridge gaps in coordination, promote autonomous, asynchronous work, reduce the error rate and improve productivity. If this sounds like something your organization can benefit from, book a one-on-one with us.

Cosmic Centaurs Process & Methodologies for Teams: Documentation, alignment, cadence for process review

Fig. 1: Process & Methodologies

Challenge #2 - Disjointed or outdated systems

One-third of SMEs rely on outdated systems and technology. This can cause miscommunication, and slow down the pace of work. Examples of these are project management tools, ERP systems, or even customer service platforms. SMEs that are digital-first are 64% more likely to achieve their business goals than their peers.

Cosmic Centaurs researches, suggests and integrates a tech stack that improves the efficiency of companies. In one instance, we helped an SME upgrade from their project management excel sheet by introducing Trello. This very simple switch required minimal training but it enabled more efficiency and accountability for the small team and allowed their leader to feel informed. We also showed them the various ways they could animate their daily standup using Trello to help boost productivity, create more alignment, and set the team up for a successful day.

How Cosmic Centaurs help with Tools & Proficiency, from IT Infrastructure, to training and engaging teams, to suggesting and implementing new tools where necessary

Fig 2: Tools & Proficiency

Challenge #3 - Siloed Information and miscommunication

Although information silos tend to happen in large organizations with many people and departments, SMEs are not immune to this challenge; they also form information silos when communication and processes are mismanaged or underprioritized. This can backfire on the organization as team members often duplicate work, information becomes harder to find, and power dynamics are established. We have observed that oftentimes in SMEs, silos often happen simply because people are not invited to engage with each other.

We know that integrating channels is necessary for different teams and people to properly communicate and collaborate. In one instance, we helped bridge the gap between a growth and product team in an SME, allowing team members to openly share information with one another and collaborate, rather than make assumptions about what each department was prioritizing or working on. We ensured the team meetings were well managed, enabled alignment, and were held at a regular cadence to improve information sharing. If this sounds like something your organization can benefit from, book a one-on-one with us.

From team meetings (daily standups, monthly retrospectives, performance reviews, one-on-ones) to organizational level meetings (weekly catch ups, quarterly performance reviews, yearly strategy planning), Cosmic Centaurs help you set meetings.

Fig 3: Meetings Schedule

Challenge #4 - Hiring & Retention without an HR Team

Hiring and retaining talent is a big obstacle for SMEs, especially in the post-pandemic world. Overcoming this challenge requires working on an organizational level, and creating the right structure to hire the right people and improve retention rates. To make things more difficult, most SMEs do not have a dedicated HR or talent management team.

When we work with SMEs, we clarify roles and responsibilities, define skills needed to perform certain tasks, and advise on the team’s organizational structure, and missing talent or capabilities. We also help teams prioritize which roles to hire and create a relevant outsourcing strategy.

Growth teams in Saas companies need a product arm, after the early stage there is a growth stage (product-led) where product development is focused on customer and user acquisition, activation, retention, and upsell

Fig 4: Growth teams in Saas companies need a product arm

Challenge # 5- Building & maintaining company culture while remote

Building and maintaining a company culture can give SMEs a strong competitive advantage. After all, culture is the one thing competitors cannot emulate. Culture can be difficult to maintain in remote settings

As strong advocates of making culture explicit, we help SMEs maintain their culture in distributed settings. One simple, effective tool we often employ is rituals. Rituals are any activity that your team habitually performs to improve performance, connection building, feedback sharing, innovation, etc.

With one SME, we established and oversaw monthly retrospectives to help with sharing open feedback. These sessions are for teams to reflect and discuss how they can improve the ways in which they work together. As part of our implementation phase, we shared the format for retrospectives and helped teams run their first session, offering tips for effective facilitation and documenting an action plan based on the feedback shared.

Challenge #6 - Upskilling employees for new work models

There is a clear connection between great leadership and a small business’ success. However, SME leaders are less likely than leaders in bigger organizations to have undergone leadership training and coaching.

In addition to advising leaders on strategy and implementation, we help teams upskill across several areas. Our interventions take several forms. With a number of our SME clients, we hosted trainings on tools to improve their teams’ technological proficiency. We also hosted workshops on concepts such as Design Thinking to help teams use the methodology for innovation and problem-solving. Through it all, we are comprehensive about documentation, ensuring that the processes, frameworks, tutorials, and methods are all captured and the knowledge is shared and available to all employees that wish to improve their capability and develop their skills.

Across the board, our interventions are based on our 4-step approach and they range in scale and size. Most often, they are simple solutions that improve an SME’s collaboration, agility, performance, and happiness. If you’re an SME struggling with any of the five areas of organizational strategy below, book a one-on-one consultation with us. Cosmic Centaurs can help you create the right environment for your organization to thrive.

Cosmic Centaurs 5 Areas of Organizational Strategy: Structure (organizational structure, team structure, roles & responsibilities, work model design), People (employee engagement, leadership coaching, capability building, learning and development L&D, recruiting, onboarding, and offboading), Process (processes, methodologies, knowledge creating and documentation, scaling and growth), Culture (purpose and values, culture activation, team culture, internal comms), and systems (performance reviews, measurements, technology systems, promotions and salaries, workspace design and management)

Fig 5: Cosmic Centaurs 5 Areas of Organizational Strategy


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