My Team Winning

I’ve spent the vast majority of my career meeting teams of people that work inside technology companies and one thing is clear. Businesses are about people. The more I meet CEOs, the more I’ve come to understand that great teams are a prerequisite for great companies.

I spent the first six years of my career analyzing publicly traded enterprise technology companies on Wall St. and for the past two years I’ve been both an early startup employee and a consultant. I’m by no means an expert on HR, but at this point I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t.

Finding the right people is paramount in building a great company and startups by nature spend a great deal of time on hiring. The right people for your company is your company’s scarcest resource. Most of what I’ve read on the subject is either outdated or takes an aerial view. So here’s what I’ve learned from my experience down in the trenches:

Hiring is insanely hard.

I’ve seen first hand how hard team building really is. It’s mind blowing to think about how a team of two engineers could grow into a 2,000+ person organization and maintain a great culture — it’s an amazing and under-appreciated feat.

One of the coolest parts of my latest role at Tritan Collective is getting to meet different startup founders nearly every day. I love hearing a CEO’s story for the first time and getting to learn about their vision and what drives them to continue building.

“People don’t often tell founders that they ARE HR people” — Samir Rayani, co-founder @ Next Big Sound (acquired by Pandora)

I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had where “how’s business” unveils issues similar to these (using names from the TV show Friends, of course):

“Monica is a talented designer, but I’m not sure she believes in Rachel’s vision.”
“I wish Chandler would speak up more during our weekly product meetings”
“Ross is a great engineer, but he rarely agrees with Phoebe’s product roadmap.”

None of these issues are uncommon. What’s rare are teams capable of addressing issues head-on with solutions that put the company’s interests first.

My unofficial guide to hiring

1. Vision comes first

“When there’s a will, there’s a way” — Manny Saloio (my grandfather)

I strongly believe that people will learn faster and achieve more when they’re focused on a common goal. Every team member needs a passion for what you’re building and the problem your product or solution solves. Otherwise they’re working for the wrong reasons. Money? It can be attained outside your organization. Resume builder? Achievable elsewhere. Hire people that are willing to learn whatever additional skills it takes to reach your organization’s goal.

2. Quality disagreements

“A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Lack of candor, if unchecked, ultimately leads to dysfunctional environments.” — Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.

Healthy relationships (business and personal) are based on having quality disagreements; the ability to communicate your views openly while appreciating the views of others. Listening to your teammates and hearing people out. Putting your own agenda aside for what’s best for the company. Most importantly, setting an actionable plan that moves the company forward.

Managing a team through complex issues is hard and you’d be hard pressed to find the necessary skillset on a resume. And how do determine true team chemistry in an interview process? It goes far deeper than sharing common interests and where one attended college. The key is in asking real questions and getting real answers. Discuss topics that can be uncomfortable such as politics. Remember that the answers are secondary to the goal, which is finding someone you can have quality disagreements with and wants your team to win.

3. Getting stuff done

“Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” — Unknown

To be clear — you shouldn’t hire someone from Finance into a development role because he’s “crushing it” on Code Academy. Certain roles do require certain skills. But vision and team chemistry still come first and thus hiring for any exact role is tertiary.

Every great company has a vision, goals aligned with that vision and projects that achieve those goals. But it’s day-to-day tasks and completed projects that keep the company moving forward everyday. There really is no substitute for hard work.

If your team buys the vision, carries the honesty and sincerity to put the company’s best interest first and the hustle to get the job done — chances are they’ll stay afloat when times get tough. And believe me, the times will get tough. Your team makes all the difference between weathering the storm or letting it break you.