Agent Forum: Team Building Tips From the Pros

 

We recently hosted our second fall Side Agent Forum. It was truly humbling to see a whole auditorium filled with nearly 500 partner agents and teams. It gave us an amazing visual of how much we’ve grown since last year’s Forum, which was attended by about 30 people who gathered in the lobby of our San Francisco headquarters. For those who were able to attend - thank you so much for being engaged in the Side partner community. It’s a pleasure to work with the best of the best in the industry each and every day. 

To kick things off, Side gave a quarterly update. Then, all of our partners and agent teams gathered throughout the afternoon to share knowledge in breakout sessions. Everyone ended the day with a refreshed sense of purpose and with new ideas on how to continue to elevate their business.  This post will cover the key takeaways that our experts shared during an Agent Forum breakout session on building and managing teams.

Who's on Stage
Guy Gal, the Co-Founder and CEO of Side, moderated the session with the following expert agent panelists: 

During the session, Guy asked each Side Partner two questions: 
     1. What’s the biggest challenge you encountered as you built your team?
     2. What’s your team philosophy, and how do you incorporate it into your hiring strategy?


Michelle Kim: Collaboration vs. Competition + Giving Up Control 
Founder of Mosaik Real Estate

Michelle is part of a team of four; made up of herself, two full-time associates, and an operations manager. Her team, Mosaik, facilitated $58M in home sales last year and is on track to facilitate $117M this year. Before she joined Side, Michelle hit a production ceiling at $23M as a solo top producer. 

On Her Biggest Challenge: 
Michelle struggles with giving up control. She had a really good thing going when she was an independent operator, but hiring, training, and delegating to others so she can take on more business has been really tough. This is a commonly shared struggle agents face as they begin to build a team, especially for solo top producers or prior broker-owners who are used to calling the shots without having to rely on others to get the job done. 

On Team Philosophy: 
Michelle’s company motto is ‘turning transactions into relationships.’ She explains that her team operates the same way internally as they do with clients. Everything is based on a relationship of trust, where no jealousy exists. She says, “Since we’re such a tight-knit team, we’re able to be collaborative, not competitive.” Her team will even pass a lead from one agent to another if they feel the other agent will be a better fit for the client. When these situations come up, Michelle works with her team to figure out how much time each agent spent with the lead, then develops a commission split that’s fair to everyone. 

She also focuses on creating a work-hard, play-hard dynamic and a family structure. “My teammates call me their real estate mom. I keep telling them to call me their sister… I already have three kids!” Michelle jokes. For her, team-building outside a workplace is very important, and she’s protective of her office culture. “I turn people away who I don’t feel are a good fit. Also, if the team meets them and feels unsure, I don’t move forward.” 

Nicole Solari: Hiring For the Long-Term + Making Hires Based on Who YOU Are 
Founder of Level Up Realty

Nicole's team is made up of herself, four buyer's agents, an operations manager, and an assistant. Together, they completed 333 transactions in 2018, dominating the Solano County market.  

On Her Biggest Challenge: 
The biggest lesson she’s learned is not to hire someone because you like them or because they ‘put out a very specific immediate fire,’ meaning they solve for an issue that is painful to endure right now, but may not be an issue long term. Doing so will only placate a problem and cause infinitely more problems in the future. Instead, Nicole suggests taking your time with hiring to make sure all new hires are a strategic fit that will support long-term company goals.

On Team Philosophy: 
Nicole has built her team by bringing on agents and support staff with complementary personality types that fulfill very specific roles. After making “a lot, lot, lot” of bad hires, Nicole realized that she needed to hire the right people in order to protect the company culture and to create a good environment for the people that she wants to “stick around." Perhaps more importantly, she learned that you have to hire based on who you are as a person. Nicole recognized that she’s a quarterback, not a coach. She’s amazing at generating leads and feeding her team but isn’t the best manager of people. Once she clearly defined her role in the organization, she was able to start hiring to fill roles with people who excel in other areas. Hiring an effective coach and bringing in other specialized ‘players’ allowed Nicole to build a more effective, cohesive, collaborative team. 


Brett Jennings: Overcoming Plateaus + Finding Your Why 
Founder of Real Estate Experts

Brett leads a team consisting of himself, nine agents, and four admins. Together, Real Estate Experts facilitated over 130 transactions and over $165M in home sales last year in the San Jose area. Brett's ultimate goal is to bring on 36 agents and to become the first billion-dollar real estate team. 

On His Biggest Challenge: 
Brett said a few years ago, “...the standard was, if you could fog a mirror, you had a real estate license.” That presented some unique challenges because Brett was bringing in 600 leads a month, and he needed help. After running into high turnover and production plateaus, he did an exercise to figure out how to overcome these roadblocks. His goal was to define what was driving him to get up and get after it every day. Money is the obvious answer, but he was looking for more. After some soul searching, Brett defined his ‘why’ as “to live and love fully, learn, grow, and help others do the same.” Awareness of his fundamental ‘why’ took his business structure in a whole different direction because he now knew he wanted to be a coach. 

On His Team Philosophy: 
On Brett's team, there are no green agents - and everyone is treated as a business partner. He says, “In our market, we need agents that have some experience. [These agents] don’t want to be subordinate; they want to be treated like a partner, so we have junior partners and senior partners, based on experience, track record, and production.” For similarly structured businesses, Brett recommends that team leads define and promote an obvious road map for growth. He says, “Go-getters want to see the next step forward, and your role as a leader is to expand your world so your greatest people can live out their ambitions within it.” 


Jayson Madani: Addition by Subtraction + Sports Team Structure 
Founder of ROOM Real Estate

Jayson leads a sizable team, made up of himself, his partner and operations manager, a newly-hired ISA to manage Zillow leads, an in-house TC, a secretary, and ten agents. ROOM facilitated $131M in production volume in 2018 and was the number one team in volume and transactions in Santa Clara County. 

On His Biggest Challenge:
Jayson ran into some staff challenges last year and had to “do addition by subtraction.” Jayson says, “We made the changes we needed to make, to support the culture we want to have.” Once the team members who were negatively impacting culture were gone, great people started coming out of the woodwork, and the team had five amazing hires since then. Jayson says, “I’m excited to go to the office every day, the culture is great. The culture was disturbed before we let people go.” 

On His Team Philosophy: 
Every new hire is on an equal split to start, and Jayson lets people prove themselves, so a sports team analogy is a good way to describe how his team operates. Jayson explains, “I’m the QB and the rainmaker - I’m on lots of phone calls. I have 5 agents last year that made six figures, some almost double[d their income].” By giving agents the opportunity to control their own destiny, he attracts the right people - the ones who are motivated to make things happen. His agents put in the work, and Jayson provides the resources they need to reach their optimal potential. 


Wilson Leung: Becoming Comfortable with Stability + Replacing Yourself 
Founder of OWN Real Estate


Wilson leads a team made up of eight agents and four support staff members. Together, the OWN team facilitated  $109M in home sales in 2018 and was the #1 real estate team in South San Francisco. 

On His Biggest Challenge:
Wilson struggled to accept limitations created by team members who are comfortable reaching a certain threshold of success and who aren’t interested in pursuing new business beyond that point. He’s had to come to terms with the fact that some team members are rock steady and comfortable with that, and that’s something he has to become comfortable with too.

On His Team Philosophy:
Wilson took a two-fold approach to building his team. First, he set out to determine the best use of his time and how he most effectively contributes to the business, then he hired specialized people to maximize productivity and fill in the gaps. Wilson recognized that he needs to focus primarily on generating and converting leads, then he started identifying supporting roles.

He accomplished this by figuring out how he could incrementally remove himself from the business based on an hourly wage by hiring specialized people. First, he hired an operations manager, which allowed him to go from doing 10 transactions a year to 31. Then he hired buyers’ agents, who he delegated all his buyer leads to, and grew from 31 transactions per year to 82. 


Ron Abta: Learning to Trust + A Hierarchy-Free Team 
Founder of Polaris Realty 

Ron leads a team made up of himself, two associates, a marketing manager, and an operations director. Ron and his team facilitated just over $98M in home sales and 90 transactions as of September 2019.

On His Biggest Challenge:
Ron admits, “I have a hard time letting people in, and I need to be more open to hiring more people.” He didn’t have much else to say on the matter except that he was open to advice on how to overcome his hangup. Guy chimed in with, “It hurts when you give all of yourself, and it’s not appreciated and reciprocated. In the first two years, we didn’t have a single person quit. This last year, I’ve had to get really comfortable with turnover. At first, it cut really deep because it’s not something you’re used to. But you start to recognize that it’s necessary and it’s going to improve the company and not detract from it. You recognize that getting the team right -- trimming the fat and adding muscle makes for better collaboration and better results."

On His Team Philosophy: 
For Ron, the team is not a hierarchy; it’s a flat structure. His agents do a 50/50 split regardless of who brought in the lead, and they’re all on a level playing field. It takes out any sense of unfairness, it’s all very equitable, and Ron makes himself available as a resource at all times. He says, “ There’s no CEO and underlings, we’re all on the same level.” 

To Sum it All Up
Guy gave a great wrap up on how to best serve as a leader. He says, “A good rule of thumb is, you can’t expect to fit yourself to the people you bring on to your team, you have to find folks that will fit to you. You have to be the sun that the rest of the team orbits around. If you do it the other way, you’re going to have a lot of suns and very little orbit, and that’s very dysfunctional.” 

He also encouraged open, frequent communication; a message he frequently shares with the team at Side as well. Guy says, “Be a consistent communicator. Say thank you when someone’s doing something right; compensate it and reinforce it. But also, be willing to say when there’s room to improve. Do it early and often to have the most impact.”

Regardless of how you get there, Guy brought it all together nicely when he said, “Growth is not a straight arrow up and to the right - but that happens over a long period of time. It may somersault, go backward a little bit, and then go forward again.” Nicole threw in, “It may catch on fire…” and the panel and crowd laughed. Guy continued, “The key ingredient is your own perseverance and persistence in pursuit of the goal you want to accomplish.”