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How To Build Effective Teams

Tuesday 16 October, 2007
by Christine Comaford-Lynch
Fact: You need a great team in order to succeed. Fiction: You need to have that great team in place from the start. Building teams takes time.

Experience has taught me that you don't have to have a great product. A good product is ok. Great people make the difference. Great people can make a mediocre product a success. But mediocre people can make a great product a disaster.

So let's discuss who you need on your team, how to build/support/retain that team, how to find your team members, and who your extended team members should be. All the other risks you face, such as market size and technology, won't have half the impact of your team.

Be diverse

A successful team must be composed of diverse players. You'll need Visionaries, Leaders, Implementers and Infrastructure Builders/Supporters.

  1. Visionaries

    Visionaries appear at all levels, but must, of course, be highly visible in executive management. These are the people who will "see" the future of the products or services of your company, as well as new markets you should enter.
  2. Leaders

    Leaders will also be in executive management as well as throughout the ranks. Leaders have the uncanny ability to make their mission everyone else's. A great leader can inspire and motivate people to do anything.
  3. Implementers

    Implementers make things happen. They build the products/services and market and sell them.
  4. The Infrastructure Builders/Supporters

    They will create the foundation, processes and procedures of the company to keep it running smoothly.

The Visionaries need the Leaders to check and disseminate their vision, the Leaders need the Implementers to execute their orders, and everyone needs the Infrastructure Builders/Supporters to support the company's operations. If you are missing one of these roles, fill it soon. In the meantime, hire a temp executive - a rent-a-controller is better than no controller.

Rock the culture

The best way to build, support and retain a great team is to encourage a rockin' culture that everyone wants to be part of! Your company should have values that everyone agrees to uphold. These should be posted visibly, printed on coffee cups, etc.

Everyone throughout the organisation must be empowered to "call" any team member on not honoring the values. I've seen solid, enduring, and humane work environments created by endorsing values - and I've seen the opposite without them.

Encourage the following virtues too: humility, communication, empowerment, generosity, focus, fiscal responsibility, innovation, and patience.

Remember:Hiring grade A people creates grade A teams. Fill the top slots of the organisational chart with grade A people, then let these executives flesh out their teams. Communicate cross-company weekly - people like to know what is going on. And finally, help every team member envision their next promotion or two.

Choose wisely

Now that we know who we need and the environment to hire them into, let's look at the attributes to seek out:

  1. Smarts 

    Hire the smartest people you can find. They'll find their way out of the majority of messes they'll get into. This takes guts, but entrepreneurs have them!
  2. Pedigree 

    An MBA doesn't impress me. A GSD does. GSD = Gets Stuff Done. Someone who has results, results, results all over their past has a pedigree every bit as powerful as an Ivy league degree.
  3. Commitment 

    I don't mean the fluffy stuff. We're talking the heavy, deep, man/woman on a mission stuff. When the grenades are flying, the committed person doesn't go AWOL. There is nothing more powerful than emotional equity. No amount of stock options even come close.
  4. Plays well with others 

    I became an entrepreneur because I didn't play well with others, and thus was not employable. But I learned. And it's been one of the greatest lessons I've ever embraced.

Numbers 1-3 are required, number 4 can be learned. But you'll save yourself a lot of heartache by getting all four up front.

The best way to find your team is by schmoozing. Go to every industry event you can and tell everyone about your great company and who you are looking to hire. Then interview wisely.

Also use your extended team (see below) to check out your potential hires.

Give each candidate two offers:

  1. One with a fair salary and fair amount of stock, and
  2. The other with a lower salary and a higher amount of stock

If you have equity to spare, there's no sense in burning all your cash on salaries.

Build an extended team

Your extended team will be made up of your: investors, board members, and advisors.

You'll most likely have a board of 5-7 people. I prefer seven, with two seats going to investors, and two to the CEO and one other exec. The remaining seats should be given to people you trust and who will help you.

For advisors, create a board of about ten people, maximum. The profile for both directors and advisors is an industry heavyweight, model customer, credibility booster, as well as savvy business person with great connections.

Make sure that each advisory board member plays a specific role, such as; helps with strategic alliances, or works with the sales, marketing, or technical teams. This keeps them focused.

Keep your extended team committed and passionate with monthly email updates. Needless to say, everyone should get stock options (with the exception of the investors). The amount will range from .25% - 3%, based on the stage of the company.

You'll lure killer board members and advisors by having a killer business. But remember that filling in a board will take time. Most startups don't fill all board seats within the first year of operations. Be picky!

So build yourself a great team and get cracking on a great product. Then if it turns out only good, you'll still be way ahead of the pack!

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