teams

How to Build Great Teams Within Your Startup

Latest posts by Sahana Jayaraman (see all)

A company’s greatest assets are its people, and for startups in particular, it’s the people who make a real difference. Without question, it’s in working well as a team that creates the biggest impact.

Academics Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen have spent over 15 years studying teams and groups of employees, conducting more than 300 interviews and 4,200 surveys with team leaders and managers. In the duo’s paper, The Secrets of Great Teamwork, they assert high-performing teams tend to be “4-D,” or diverse, dispersed, digital and dynamic.

In order for teams to be effective, Haas and Mortensen have observed that they require a strong structure, compelling direction and a supportive context.

Clearly define the role whenever hiring

To hire the right person for your team, you must first take the time to clearly define the role. In particular, what resources in terms of skills and experience does your startup need to help achieve its goals? Only once you have your needs tightly nailed down should you begin identifying suitable candidates.

Gino Wickman, author of bestselling business book, “Traction,” and creator of the Entrepreneurial Operating System for startups, argues there are three questions you should ask of every employee who joins your team:

  • Do they “get” it?
  • Do they “want” it?
  • Do they have the “capacity” to do it?

If the answer to all three questions is “yes,” all signs point to the individual likely having the appetite, personal attributes and focus to help your business achieve its goals.



Involve your people in your vision

Of course, that calls for your organization to have a strong shared vision. It’s very difficult to build engagement if your team isn’t happily traveling in the same direction and feel they have no say in what’s going on. To maximize buy-in, involve your management team in the creation and roll-out of your startup’s overall vision.

Set clear KPIs and provide clarity on all important deliverables. People need to know what they are individually accountable for and the decisions they can make. Usually, once accountability is agreed upon and performance indicators are in place, the best thing you can do for your team is to trust in them to do the job they were hired to do. Nevertheless, be sure to provide ongoing feedback.

Celebrate great work swiftly and openly

Recognize outstanding work and celebrate the wins. On the flip side, don’t shy away from offering criticism where warranted. This is the central tenet of “Radical Candor,” the brilliantly insightful book on leadership by ex-Google and Apple executive, Kim Scott.

The term, “radical candor,” as defined by Scott, is when you care personally but challenge directly, offering praise in public, but delivering honest criticism in private, so as to avoid embarrassing an employee who has taken a misstep.

“Make it clear that the problem is not due to some unfixable personality flaw,” Scott writes in her book. “Share stories when you’ve been criticized for something similar.”

Don’t be afraid to turn the tables

Scott also suggests it’s in a leader’s own interest to turn the tables every now and again so that radical candor is directed his or her way. But of course, whenever a boss asks an employee if things are okay, chances are he or she will reflexively respond with an answer along the lines of “everything’s great.”

Don’t leave it at that. Scott recommends silently counting to six before saying anything further. Sure, it will feel like an awkwardly long six seconds – for both parties. But, it could also be a very productive tenth of a minute: oftentimes employees will fill the silence by telling you what’s really on his or her mind. And if such candor helps you improve you leadership behavior, that’s beneficial for your startup overall.

The point is, it’s important to create a culture in which all members of your team are comfortable receiving feedback. Building teams that are open to critical feedback and agile in addressing problems has become imperative to thriving as a startup.


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Balance the needs of the business and the individual

Finally, none of the above will amount to much if you are unable to strike an acceptable balance between the needs of the business and of the people working within it.

You must be mindful of your team’s individual personal goals and aspirations. Let’s take younger workers as an example: the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey concludes that millennial and Gen Z adults value flexibility and increasingly look to their employers to give them the skills they need to succeed. This doesn’t mean only technical skills. Deloitte’s research shows that this particular age group is especially interested in building interpersonal skills, confidence and ethical behavior—all of which they consider essential for a business to excel.

If you nurture your people, they will go the extra mile for you, and your business.

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