Strong startup teams are one of the greatest resources we have on Earth. They create new realities, efficiencies, and global benefits (both physical and digital). Yet, grouping individual entrepreneurs into powerful teams has a ridiculously low success rate. As a CEO of a startup studio, it is my responsibility to form and invest in teams to execute scalable startup solutions. I view forming teams like blacksmithing, something I dabbled in as a teen. You can’t mold a team too quickly or it will crack. You have to repeatedly change the environment from extreme hot to cold and back again to strengthen their steel. And like any tool you’ve crafted from fire, sweat and metal, teams require maintenance.
Time Equates to Trust:
We all know that trust is built and destroyed over time. Trust is an indispensable attribute that fortifies awesome teams beyond the strengths of each individual. So throwing strangers into the leadership team can lead to disaster. If possible, startup studios bring in whole teams that have worked together before. In other cases, the studio hires a CEO who then brings on people they’ve worked with before.
Unfortunately, well-bonded teams aren’t always available at the opportune time for implementing a scalable startup solution. So studios must find ways to build and evaluate the trust of many startup teams before investing too much. Only when the team is pounded by challenges and squelched by negative customer feedback does trust emerge. A common shared experience of weathering the storm or getting past a fight improve trust more than anything.
Wisdom is gained through trial, error, mistakes, and windfalls. Each scar teaches us how to avoid making the same mistake again. By vetting experienced entrepreneurs, studios can help teammates trust that strong entrepreneurs surround them. While experienced teams may fall down, they are much more likely to succeed than inexperienced teams. Starting with good-steeled entrepreneurs is the best protection against failure.
Filling the Holes:
I have strengths and flaws. My bet is, so do you. As mentioned in a previous blog, I call these superpowers and kryptonite. If you don’t know your flaws and your team mates flaws, you lend a blind eye to your weaknesses. Better teams fill in the holes in their armor and the weaknesses in their foundation. This principle applies to focus (vision-CEO, Technology-CTO, and Revenue-CSO or CMO), skills (organization-COO, finance-CFO, Human Resources-CPO) and personality types (extrovert, judging, etc). You may start with two people, but you’ll want to fill as many of these categories as possible. It’s also important to state who fills what role, so that if the wheels start to spin, it’s easier to identify where someone else might need to step in.
There is no better way to destroy a team than removing hope and autonomy. This is a common complaint about the corporate world, but can be just as true in startup land. The difference is that corporations can often survive inefficient teams, whereas startups can’t. Empowering your team to find efficiencies makes the team more stronger and/or better. Giving your team a hope is powerful. Teams strengthen more when they transform a hope into a goal and then a reality.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, but frequent communication is critical for startup teams. Startups change so fast that it’s easy for the company to change trajectory while a few individuals plod along the old path. These major and minor pivots occur on hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly cycles. As a team smith, you must make sure your crew is on the same path, ALL THE TIME. Spoken words are great for this, but as you grow, other tools (like Slack) become much more important. Retreats help with different types of communication. Not surprisingly, communication helps build trust. You’ll trust that the team is on the right path, and that you understand your role as the company changes.
As a leader, you hold the responsibility of crafting an amazing team. Knowing the components of what makes a great team and having good leadership skills will ensure that the team continues to cooperate together efficiently and positively. The leader/CEO is the blacksmith. He/She holds the mallet and strikes the sword over the anvil, repeatedly, beating into the sword (or the team in this case) the trust and strength that every sword will need. This is the mentality to have as a leader, pound your team past their limits to overcome great obstacles and in turn will become as strong as steel. Your team will thank you.
-Steve Jobs is one of the most influential leaders within the last two decades, some view his leadership skills as harsh and irrational while others admire his ability to push his team past limits they didn’t even know they had. In his own words Jobs explains his rationale, “My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better”.
–If there is a difficult complex issue at hand, engagement is key, be sure to work through the issue collaboratively, don’t leave a team member to fend for them self.
–To keep a team working in the same direction efficiently and cooperatively, it helps to define the teams values and goals. Defining values and goals will increase team morale and keep the efforts productive and positive.
Originally published on February 19th, 2016 on our previous blog.