Behind every successful entrepreneur is a winning team. A committed founder, no matter how talented, will not ultimately be successful unless supported by a top class team, united around the same vision of success.
Our culture tends to place the successful entrepreneur on a pedestal as if the success is a solo run. This is never the case. Sustained success requires a myriad of different talents all working in harmony with each other – a point always emphasised by winning entrepreneurs in acceptance speeches at awards ceremonies !
Are you the ambitious leader of an early stage enterprise where the value proposition and vision of success are now beginning to crystallise?
If so, whether in a business or a not for profit sector, you will need to build a winning team. The following are some pointers to do this :
- Decide early on what skill sets you will need to scale up and seek to hire or have ‘on standby’ the best resources you can afford. This team can be in house or more likely in house supplemented by ‘virtual’ outsource partners, at least initially. You need to be forward looking. If you only look for resources at the point in time at which they are needed you are more likely to be rushed into making bad ‘hiring’ decisions. Worthy of special mention is having access to strong financial capability. Key performance indicators (financial and otherwise) should be defined and progress v these metrics should be a top management priority. Poor financial management is a major contributory factor in nearly all business failures.
- Personal attributes of team members are more important than their core skills. Disharmony in the workforce is more likely to destroy a fledging business than a weakness in a core competence, which once identified can be rectified. Team members should be open, honest, trustworthy, hardworking and show respect to other members of the team. As ‘team players’ committed to achievement of the same goals they should value diversity of background in the team and be open the different perspectives. A high level of self – awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses is also desirable amongst team members.
- A tolerance for mistakes must be part of the culture. There will be growing pains. Early stage companies need to be creative, experiment with different solutions and take calculated risks. To balance this team members should feel they are empowered to challenge and to speak up when they have concerns about any aspect of operations or strategic direction. All mistakes or ‘failures’ should be the subject to a lessons learned process, which unearths the real reasons why things did not go to plan.
- ‘Co ownership’ is a feature of all winning teams. For team members it can’t be just a job, they must share in the passion of the founders. ‘Co ownership’ for commercial enterprises can literally mean every member of the workforce having a share in the equity/profits of the business. Share ownership will be more meaningful if the founders have articulated a clear exit strategy (trade sale, stock market listing etc). If team members have been involved in creating the vision for the enterprise this will enhance their feeling of ownership. Flat structures and matrix working with rotating leadership of projects related to subject matter knowledge of individuals (rather than position on the organisational hierarchy) will support the feeling of ownership. Finally, communications should be as open as possible on all aspects of operational performance and strategic direction, as this will enhance the feeling of belonging amongst team members and will built trust. A feeling of co ownership can be key to the retention of skilled staff, a major risk for all growing enterprises.
- Building a winning team is as much art as science. Don’t assume that you will get it right first time. What looks like a winning team on paper might not work out in practise. You will need to observe team dynamics over time and have the courage to make changes before settling on a particular team membership or structure. Be careful to whom you offer permanent contracts of employment (not to mention shares in the equity) until you know that the new team members are a good fit. Also, as the enterprise matures a different team membership and structure will be required and you need to build this into your planning. A key resource in the early stages may not be a good fit later. Who knows you may even need to fire yourself at some stage in the future!
- Create a fun working environment, and don’t forget to celebrate successes.