“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.”
~Halford Luccock, American Methodist minister
I’m a fan of classical music. Some symphonic orchestras have more than 80 people who all play in unison from separate pages and different scores with uniquely designed instruments. And they can create that kind of harmony? People with that talent amaze me.
Being on a self-storage operations team is a lot like being a member of an orchestra. Having a strong, motivated, well-synchronized group of people working toward a common goal—who refer to themselves as “we” rather than “I”—is the dream. It doesn’t happen by chance or luck. Like anything, it takes work to get it right. Here’s how to play your part and become the kind of team member any self-storage employer would be happy to hire and reward.
A Team in Tune
Jim Sullivan, founder and CEO of Sullivision, is a trainer for team leaders in the restaurant and service industry as well as a motivational speaker. He’s often touted the benefits and shown the proven results of strong teams and continued training. I’ve had the pleasure of attending one of his seminars, and his phrase “All work is teamwork” has stuck with me.
While the term “teamwork” may seem a bit passe and overused, it still has value. Every person in a self-storage organization, from ownership to part-timers, should be committed to the business’ success and dedicated to their role in getting there. When everyone is working together and moving in the same direction, morale is high, and goals and objectives will be met.
Moreover, staff turnover and coworker conflicts are minimized because a teamwork environment fosters friendship, respect and loyalty. Call it what you want: “mutually supportive community,” “synergistic employment block” or “cohesive work environment.” All work really is teamwork.
A Star Performer
If being a self-storage manager were an easy job, anyone could do it. We know that isn’t true. There are more challenges in this industry than any one type of professional background can handle. We all come from varied walks of life and experiences and have a variety of skills. Respect that.
Multiple cooperative but unique work experiences can bring a new perspective—that whole “fresh eyes see clearer” idea. This can help resolve existing challenges with solutions that you might’ve missed. No task is unimportant or beneath anyone. Choose to lead by example and you’ll build respect and trust with others. Below is guidance on how to become the self-storage team member everyone wants to have.
Be responsible and reliable. It might seem simple, but many people struggle in this area. If you tell a co-worker you’ll handle a specific task, then do it. You also need to be flexible, trustworthy, dedicated and resourceful. Our schedules can change on a moment’s notice, especially due to outside forces, such as inclement weather, illness and pandemic issues. If you’re a regional manager, you might even spend time on the road, away from your home and family. How we perform during those times is as much a reflection of the company we work for as well as our character.
Be on time. Not just sometimes, but all the time. Leave home earlier if you must and stay a bit later if needed (with permission from your supervisor, of course). Pay attention to what’s happening in your area so you can better judge traffic before you head out the door. For some, the work commute is a constant struggle, especially in congested cities. If you know bad weather or backed-up traffic could extend your drive, plan for it.
Never gossip. This refers to your self-storage coworkers, supervisors, the owner and even tenants. Listen, empathize and report, if necessary, but don’t judge. Sometimes, things aren’t as they seem, and you have no idea of the silent battles some may be fighting.
We all played the game “Telephone” when we were kids, right? It’s the one where one word or phrase is whispered from child to child, and by the time it gets back to the first kid, it isn’t even close to what they said in the beginning. Gossip can be a bit like that, nothing close to the truth, and it can have serious and sometimes hurtful consequences. If you don’t want to be talked about when you aren’t around, don’t do it to others. Also, shut it down if anyone starts.
Practice good communication. A harmonious team has individuals who excel at communication. You need to be an active listener, share pertinent information and ask questions when something is unclear. If you’re tasked with a project, provide updates on how it’s progressing.
Respect everyone. There are (mostly) no wrong opinions, but there can be bad approaches to expressing them. Back up your opinions and ideas with facts and supporting data rather than just your own emotions. This can strengthen their foundations, give them merit and help build trust within the team.
No matter what rung you occupy on the company ladder, there’ll be expectations of accountability and resilience. Listen thoroughly and sympathetically, think clearly and objectively, and process completely and methodically before you react in any situation.
Celebrate your skills. Past work experiences and vendor connections can really be helpful. The bigger the pool, the further we swim. For example, someone with a retail background could be a huge help in the self-storage merchandising area, office organization and checklists. Construction experience can aid with maintenance and safety concerns. Restaurant folks are detail-oriented and cleaning machines … the possibilities are endless. Don’t be afraid to contribute your ideas or impart your knowledge.
Consider other views. There’s a Japanese phrase, nemawashi, that loosely translates to “tending to the roots” or “roots around.” To Bonsai gardeners, it means to ensure the health and wellness of the tree—they need to start at the bottom (the roots) and work their way up. This will ensure longevity because even little trees have many roots.
The phrase morphed into a business “buzzword” in the late 80s, with the understanding that everyone involved in a project can have an effect in a decision, no matter how small their role. You may only have a few team members at your self-storage facility or many if you work for a large company. Regardless of staff size, everyone’s opinions should count. Never dismiss someone’s idea based on their role within the organization.
Strong team players are self-driven. They jump in and help at a moment’s notice. They’re flexible, reliable and hold themselves accountable. If you treat each of your coworkers with individual and personalized respect, listen to their ideas and opinions, and help each other uphold the company ideals and policies. When you do, you’ll be a part of a strong and experienced group of self-storage professionals that any company will be proud to call “our team”!
Kevin Edwards has been in the self-storage industry since 2015. He’s a state-licensed property manager in South Carolina, where he currently oversees several properties, and a seminar presenter for national self-storage conferences. He’s worked for both privately owned and national operators as a site manager, traveling trainer, site auditor and auction coordinator, and has aided in property acquisitions and site inspections. To reach him, call 843.422.3461 or email email@example.com.