[00:00:00] Hello, my friend on today’s episode, I’m speaking with Pete. And our topic is how to build layers into your team structure at your gym. We talk about the pros and cons of having a flat organizational structure. And we talk about how you might consider, and when you might consider adding layers of reporting and accountability in your gym.
So if you’re growing your team, this is a great episode for you. Keep on listening.
Welcome to the Business for Unicorns podcast, where we help gym owners unleash the full potential of their business. I’m your host, Michael Keeler. Join me each week for actionable advice, expert insights, and the inside scoop on what it really takes to level up your gym, get ready to unlock your potential.
And become a real unicorn in the fitness industry. Let’s begin.
[00:01:00] Hello, fitness business nerds. What’s up? Welcome to another episode of the Business for Unicorns podcast. I’m back again with Pete. What’s up, Pete? Hey there, Mr. Kuehler. Good to be back. Good to see you. We’re recording this just the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend. So you had a good holiday weekend? I did.
It went fast, just like the whole summer did. But it’s good to be back in the school grind because my boys are off to school and I feel like I just got that sixth day of the work week with the extra hours thanks to school buses and extended day programs. I’m feeling good. That’s great. I know I was just sharing before we started recording that I, I spent, uh, last week in Provincetown, Massachusetts or what people call P-Town, and it was a blast.
It was really lovely. It was my last hurrah for the summer, but we’re back in it now and now starts the sprint till the end of the year , and so I’m glad we both got some downtime Before we dive into today’s topic, which is gonna be all about how to structure your team as a gym owner. Before we get into that, I just wanna give a quick shout out to one of our friends who [00:02:00] we recommend a lot on this podcast.
But it’s a team at Kilo. If y’all don’t know them, if you haven’t heard us talk about it before the podcast, it’s basically an all in one platform that’ll build your website and manage a lot of backend lead followup and you can go to use kilo. com to learn more, but it’s a great platform for, like I said, hosting your website, building your website that converts and also giving you the tools on the backend.
To manage landing pages, following up with leads, et cetera. We’re a big fan and, and I think you’ll really like them. All of our Unicorn Society members who use them are also big fans. So go to use kilo. com. Let them know that we sent you and they will take care of you. Moving on to today’s topic. This one came out of a conversation Pete was having earlier with a Unicorn Society member.
So what I want to talk about today is really about as you start to grow your team as a gym owner, how do you think about. Organizing that team. When do you want to create layers in your org chart? By what I mean by that is when do you want to add in managers or supervisors or other reporting layers? And when is it a good idea to keep the organization [00:03:00] flat by not having so many layers?
There’s pros and cons to both. Our gyms compared to other businesses tend to not be huge organizations. So right off the bat, it’s important to acknowledge that we’re not talking about multiple Partman’s multiple international layers of reporting. We’re talking about a small business, but still it’s worth thinking about how you start to organize the reporting within your team as it grows.
So do you want to kick us off, Pete? Like what are your initial thoughts about how you think about this at Cressy? Yeah. So I have employed all different versions. We’ve done the flat organizational structure. We’ve done multiple layers. We’ve succeeded, we’ve failed, we’ve been up, we’ve been down. For the first seven years, we were in business.
My business partner, Eric. Was present in Massachusetts in a full time format. And then at that point we opened up a second facility and suddenly the ownership alliance split into two different States. And that left me as the singular onsite owner at the time. [00:04:00] And I also happened to be an owner who didn’t have any coaching experience.
And so this was a moment in time. Where I learned the hard way over a series of years to follow that a flat organizational structure doesn’t work in the absence of an owner who single handedly oversaw programming. And by this Eric was the final say. In all things programming, and it was very easy to follow that rule or that guideline while he was around, and it was very easy for the team to fall in line, but once he left, and I said, Hey, you four or five, I think we had four or five full time coaches on the team at that point.
Say you guys collectively, let’s figure it out. And all of these programming philosophies and approaches come and go over time. And various staff members start drinking that Kool Aid at various times. And it starts to influence the way they design training material. What happened? We became a gym with an identity crisis on the training floor and [00:05:00] the problems were not getting solved because if I raised my hand and I said, we’re going to do this.
Everyone in the room would say, what do you know? You’re the business guy. And if a team member raised their hand and said, no, we’re going to do this. They’d say, what do you know? This is a flat organizational structure. And I realized in that moment that somebody needed to be the boss in this facet. And so that was when through many struggles, trials and tribulations, there became a need for a director of sorts.
So we’ve talked about it time and time again. John O’Neill was elevated from entry level strength coach to director of performance at some point. And a big reason for doing so was because we needed somebody to be the final second. Someone needed to be the deal breaker and the decisions when we were in a deadlock, someone needed to be able to say.
Because I said so, when Cameron, now, I’m not saying that is a long term scalable leadership style, but sometimes it has to happen. Agree to disagree does not work when it comes to [00:06:00] servicing the client in a way where we are sending six different iterations of programs out onto the training floor and we have a confused, annoyed, and competitive team out there trying to deliver a quality experience for the user.
Does that make sense, Michael? Yeah, 100%. I think that’s often the pain point that teams feel that when they start to realize they have to add some layers, right? Is that there’s like key decisions that have to get made and you can’t make every decision by consensus, right? If the organization is so flat that it’s just like an owner and then Everyone reports to the owner that by default, there’s like just one person whose job it is to make the final call.
And if they’re not around for whatever reason, then who makes the decision? Everyone has to just reach consensus or that’s possible on small teams. The more the, the many have more than three or four people trying to get to consensus on most decisions. Is tough and also just a really not a good use of time.
And so I think you’re spot on Pete. I think that story, I think really will resonate with a lot of our listeners, because I think that’s the [00:07:00] moment where a lot of folks realize they need to add in some, some structure. And so let’s just keep going with that story. So when you all started to realize you need to do that, what was the process for adding in that layer of management where it hadn’t existed before?
I didn’t have an SOP for it per se, and I didn’t have a plan of attack, but. In my experience, and I think this ends up being true in most other scenarios because whenever I have this conversation with other gym owners in unicorn society, they know what I’m talking about when I say one or two team members have already positioned themselves to be elevated.
There’s, there are rock stars and there are average and below average performers. I don’t want to say there are below average performers on every team, but there are definitely rock stars and everybody else in my experience. So it’s not that challenging. To point at one or two candidates if you’re in a position like we were and in our case John had seen blood in the water and he spotted an opportunity And he was [00:08:00] new to the team.
He was inside of a year with us So he wasn’t burnt out and he was in that like hustler mindset He was just like i’m gonna act like I have the job I want and not the job I have And i’m gonna go out here and handle myself like a director And I’m going to do it for just long enough for them to realize that I’m indispensable.
And I’m going to walk into their office and I’m going to say, You and I both know that I’m the director. Now let’s slap a title on it. So if you’re fortunate like I was, you’ve got somebody who acts the part and they go out and they make it something that you don’t even have a choice on. It’s just, it becomes the obvious choice.
I believe our friend John Goodman’s got a book coming out called The Obvious Choice. That’s what a team member does to get into that position. And that’s what happened to me. But I honestly, it’s, I’d be lying to you if I’d said, Oh, no one had done that. So here’s the playbook I would have run because I hadn’t found myself in that position at that point in time.
But here we are now at a point where I can ask myself, what would I do if this happened again? [00:09:00] And I definitely have certain kind of indicators or flags that I see in employees that make them more projectable. For a role like this than others, but I didn’t have a system in place back then and I admittedly haven’t put it on paper just yet.
A lot of it’s an instinct at this point. Yeah, of course, but that makes a lot of sense. And it’s great that you were in the position where you had such an obvious choice. I think that happens often on teams is that when there becomes an opening for a new level or a new position that never existed before, it’s usually pretty obvious who the candidates are, or in other cases, it’s obvious we don’t have a candidate.
That’s happened a few times in MFF where we realized, oh, we have this position to elevate someone with this opportunity to elevate a trainer to a director of training role, for example. And it was pretty obvious there’s no one on our team who either wanted that job or was, in our view, ready for that job.
And so in that case, you do have to start a search. From the outside, which takes more time and is trickier, but, but ultimately, I think it’s great when you [00:10:00] can promote from within makes the process faster, smoother, it’s easier culturally to do it. So I think that’s awesome. There are some potential issues there as well that I’ll point out.
Cause I just watched my wife play this game in a management role in corporate. And she was told we’ve got the budget and an available title for you to elevate one of the heads on your team. And it was suggested that she communicate to the team that she will be looking to potentially make this hire internally and would like to do.
And basically it was a raise your hand if you’d like to be considered for the opportunity type dynamic. And she ended up with three team members, I don’t know, from a team of we’ll say 12 to 15 bodies, who said yes, pick me. And they were definitely on the list if I said, Hey, Katie, make a list of five people that, you know, for sure are going to say, pick me.
And then the top three all raised their hand as expected, which is good. But what happened, there was only one role [00:11:00] available. And when it came time to actually make a call on this, there are two people who are frustrated and get their feelings hurt. And that was not surprising to her, but difficult nonetheless.
And so then you run the risk of possibly watching a downturn in performance on the backside or dealing with a resentful employee direct report further on down the road. Or second guessing yourself and feeling like you messed it up because you got strong armed and ended up picking someone that the powers that be above you.
Prioritize something different than you did. There are complications that come with playing this internal promotion game. So I encourage you to proceed carefully. Yeah. That it’s so true. I think when you decide to add layers to your organization, you’re deciding to deal with that kind of complexity.
You’re starting to deal with the kind of complexity of who do I promote? How do I set expectations for how people? Get promoted. How do I deal with the feelings that come with [00:12:00] not being chosen for the promotion? And I’ll keep going because I think that the tension keeps going is that I’ve had the experience many times in my career that the person getting promoted, one of two bad things often happens.
One is that they didn’t realize how Differently, they’d be treated by the team. Now that they manage that team, I’ve seen all kinds of people not succeed as new managers in the first few months and years, because they weren’t ready for that transition themselves. From going to, from peer to now I manage you as a tough leap to make.
I think the other thing that I often see go wrong is that it just left the top of my head. It was them not being ready for that change. But then the other thing was. It’ll come back to me, but that is one I’ve seen happen the most, which is, Oh, that was the other thing. Sorry. Was that the person who I thought was going to be a good manager was really good at doing the job, but was not good at managing people who do the job, right?
It’s a very different skillset to, [00:13:00] for example, be a trainer versus be someone who manages trainers. And so same thing with being a salesperson. It’s one thing to be a good salesperson, but person who manages salespeople is a different thing. So those are also the two other. tension points that come up when you’re promoting someone is that if even you get past the drama of who is promoted and who is not, and you get into them actually doing the job, there’s still these pitfalls of them.
Maybe not being ready for having all those eyes on them and being the manager now, or they just. Don’t have the skillset yet to manage people, even though they were good at doing the job. And all of those things are things that, you know, you can work on and overcome, but it definitely means that from permitting from within is not always an easy path for those reasons and more that we’re not even going to have time to talk about this podcast.
So let me just. Oh, yeah. Please. I want to make a book recommendation on this exact topic. Either if you are an employee who is [00:14:00] trying to make the jump or you are an employer who’s considering elevating someone, I read a book recently called the making of a manager. And the authors, I’m not going to attempt to pronounce her last name because I know I’ll butcher it, but it was spelled Z H U O.
Her first name was Julie. She was a, I don’t know if she’s currently at Facebook, but she was an early stage Facebook employee who went from independent contributor to manager and got her world rocked by the shift, both culturally and… Job and skill set wise and she touched every single thing you and I have said in even further detail and it was just this wonderful ongoing accumulation of considerations for both parties involved the hirer or the person who’s said I want to be considered as Just a good read.
So, one piece. Yeah. Great recommendation. Yeah, I haven’t read that one. I’m going to put it on my list too. So let me just, as we wrap it up, maybe let’s just talk about one more aspect of this, which is, for our listeners, how do you [00:15:00] decide when it’s time to go from being a flat? Small organization to adding layers.
Cause we all start pretty flat. Most businesses start with this one person who owns the gym. They start to hire part time coaches and maybe they become full time coaches. And then maybe you have a little bit of front desk staff, et cetera. But for many of our listeners who own gyms, you’re going to be flat for a while.
You probably don’t need layers, but what’s the tipping point for UPI? I know we mentioned when you’re feeling pain points of needing more decision makers, what else should people consider when they’re thinking about when is the time for them to start to add? Depth to the organization. I think a lot of our listeners for unicorn business unicorns, podcasts, are gym owners or managers who are concerned with things like building SOPs.
And if you were at the stage in your operation where you’re saying to yourself, I need to increase efficiency. In this, this business. And it’s because you have an intention of phasing yourself back in any capacity. [00:16:00] It means that somebody is going to need to step up and pick up a leadership role from a decision making standpoint, as far as the day to day execution of running the business goes, because if you’re successful at achieving this initiative.
Of SOPing the shit out of your business, then there is going to be a massive hole in your spot because you’re going to be sitting in a home office like I am right now while your business is cranking along and there’s going to be a gap that you’ve stepped away from. And you thought I’ve got checklists.
Of course, the team’s going to know what they’re doing and checklists are great, but somebody needs to oversee them in real time. And that to me is the moment that you need to look at adding some layers. Yeah, I said, Pete, I’m just going to plus one because that’s exactly what I would have said as well, which is the moment where you as an owner have stuff on your plate that you don’t want to do anymore when you as an owner, not leveraging your time and your unique abilities to the best of your ability, when you have a vision for your life as an owner, where you’re going to be [00:17:00] working maybe less in the day to day of the business or moving on to another venture, whatever it is.
Those are all moments when you leave that gap. I think you described it really well, Pete, that needs to be filled with someone. Thank you. If you’re not going to be there to do that thing you’ve always done, someone else has got to do it. And those are often moments when I think layers have to get created.
I think those are the two ones. I think we, when the owner, you know, leadership, I should say, because it could be multiple owners when they want to keep growing and need to delegate. That requires some layers and also the example you shared earlier, where there’s a pain point of not enough people around to make decisions, right?
And we need more decision makers to be available into the building and in the meetings on a regular basis. I think that’s also a really great moment. And then when you decide to add layers, you can think through all the processes that we shared about how to do that, about how to promote from within obstacles there.
And certainly we’ve covered many times in this podcast, how to hire externally. So there’s a lot of tips on past podcasts about that. But anything else you want to say about this topic, Pete? I’ll give you a final thought. When you elevate someone into [00:18:00] a position of this nature, it’s important that you do so without creating this dynamic where it’s seen as this person only becomes the boss when the boss leaves.
And so you want to fully empower them, not just empower them in your absence. And this is a really good thing for you, the manager slash owner, because it’s going to make your life a lot easier. And by that, the minute I added a layer in between myself and Eric and the rest of the team, it meant that I could stop micromanaging the individuals and I could start micromanaging the director.
So if I walked into the gym and I was like, Oh, this place looks gross. We need to do better with our cleaning. And deep down, I know that there are three, four or five staff members who collectively collaborate on gym cleanliness. I walked right to John and I said, Hey, I know it’s not your job to keep the gym clean, but I’m pretty pissed about the cleanliness of the gym.
Can you take care of it? He’d be like, yeah, that’s, those are my guys. I got it. And I managed him [00:19:00] and he managed them. And that was how that change came into place. When I elevated someone into a director position, it made me a more efficient manager of people because I had less to think about in that sense.
And it put him in a position of leadership where people were like, oh, we answer to John now. he’s cracking the whip. So it’s a good thing when you step away from saying, everybody answers to me, just have one person who is under your kind of oversight. Yeah, that’s, it’s a great, it’s a great final thought because ultimately we give people the title and we give them a position, but we don’t actually give them the power.
And I think elevating someone requires that real sharing and delegating of the actual authority and the power to be in charge and make decisions, whether you’re in the building or not, I think is you’re right. It’s super crucial. And so often I think people half delegate, half promote where they don’t really give up and transfer that kind of power to the person.
And when you can, what a [00:20:00] game changer. What a game changer. Awesome. Great chat. I love this topic. I hope listeners, you got at least a few thoughts about how to think about adding layers of reporting and responsibility in your organization. Hopefully we made it sound reasonably easy and challenging. It’s an important thing to learn how to do, and it is fraught with pitfalls that you will learn to overcome with.
Practice. Thanks for a great conversation, Pete. I really, I love this one and it’s good to see you after the holiday weekend and listeners. If you love this podcast as much as I did, please leave us a five star review everywhere that you listen and tell your friends about it so we can find more gym owners like you to listen to the podcast and email us.
If you have any thoughts about what you want us to talk about or guests you want us to have on the podcast, michael at business of unicorns. com pita business unicorns. com. Thanks again, Pete. See you on the next one. Good chat. Talk soon.