5 Lessons on Team-Building from a Former Solo-Superstar

Oct 16, 2012 7:37:31 AM


Ryan Tollefsen’s team is 11 strong and highly successful. But making the transition from self-reliant solo superstar to captain of a dream real estate team didn’t happen overnight. It took mindset and management style shifts to move from being the man behind the business to the man behind the vision that runs the business.

“It was a struggle,” admits Tollefsen, who made the leap from Prudential to Keller Williams Realty about a year ago. Tollefsen worked for a builder in Las Vegas for nine years before moving to Alaska to build a team. “When you have your own team, you are supposed to make more money and work less,” he continues. “But there was a time when I worked a lot more and I was very stressed.” Tollefsen overcame his struggles by focusing on five philosophies:

(1) The business is no longer yours;

(2) Delegate;

(3) Know your value proposition;

(4) Accountability is key; and

(5) It’s OK to ask.

Although he’s learned many other lessons along the road to leadership success, Tollefsen says these five have proven core to personal and team growth.

The Business Is No Longer Yours

Tollefsen’s first philosophy may appear counter intuitive, and he’s quick to clarify his statement. “You still own your business. But your team has to buy in to your business model and plan; otherwise, you can’t expect them to help you achieve it.” He gains that support by developing his team members. “We address their strengths and weaknesses and come up with a solid plan to help them reach their goals.” Tollefsen even went so far as nixing his personal branding in favor of a more team centric name: Alaska Real Estate Experts.


Once Tollefsen accepted that the business was no longer his, he had to learn how to let go and delegate. That began by changing his mindset about client interaction. His biggest fear: clients would be hesitant when another team member called or showed up to an appointment instead of him. Over time, he identified that limiting belief as a false mindset and a trap for failure in the team structure.

Ryan Tollefsen and two team members during a day in the office. Ryan Tollefsen and two team members during a day in the office.

“If you have the right team members that understand the team standards, they will provide the same or better service than you would simply because they’re dedicated to providing the best experience possible for the buyer or seller,” Tollefsen says.

Expanding his team also expanded his wallet. Suddenly, he was on the hook for a larger chunk of monthly accounts payables. That was quite a shift for someone who was used to bringing in more money, not watching it go out. Today, his team must produce or the business struggles financially. “Initially this was a huge hurdle for me because I only had one buyer representative. Every time I tried to add a second person I would stumble.” Tollefsen struggled because he was avoiding the transition from a sales-focused role to a lead generation one. He had to get in front of more people so that his team could convert them to clients. It took him more than a year to transition from writing 75 percent of the team’s business to about 25 percent.

Value Proposition

A successful business must have something to offer its members or it will fail. As Tollefsen sees it, simply hiring people because of an overflow of business will not result in stable growth. Learning that lesson meant he had to embrace his changing role – which was to mentor, motivate and grow his people. “My value proposition to my team is my time. That includes lead generation to keep the pipeline of buyers and sellers open, coaching them to earn more business, setting financial goals and negotiating transactions,” Tollefsen says. “Through their success the team will grow. They are my largest advocates when recruiting new members and they never feel threatened when someone new starts. They know I have their best interest in mind and we will all be successful together.”

Accountability Is Key

Holding people responsible for results was a critical component Tollefsen admits he left out of the equation in his early team-building days. “Initially, I thought my team members needed to be accountable to the tasks that they were doing for me." Now Tollefsen helps each member understand their role, responsibilities and the repercussions through weekly one-on-one meetings. “We go over their transactions and business plans to ensure they are on track to reach their goals. And then we make any necessary adjustments together.”

It’s OK to Ask

Through the entire building period, Tollefsen developed relationships with other successful mega agents leading teams of their own. It was a critical resource. Reaching out to them for tips on succeeding with teams gave him perspective on leading through his people effectively. “I consult with my team on a regular basis before making changes or big decisions,” Tollefsen says. “Not only do they sometimes have great input, they get to participate in choosing the direction we’re headed.” That, he says, solidifies the confidence in what they are doing and results in a profitable business. “There is no ‘I’ in team," says Tollefsen.


KW MAPS Coaching, Keller Williams Realty's coaching division will be holding its Fall Masterminds in Austin, Texas from Nov. 7 - 9. The theme of this year's two-day session: Building a First-Class Real Estate Team. KW MAPS Coaching's Fall Masterminds is open to all real estate agents. Learn more about KW MAPS Coaching's Fall Masterminds.

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