It’s all about the team. This age old debate had new life breathed into it a few weeks back when Harvard Business Review highlighted a Dutch study by Eva De Mol of 95 startups, which suggests teams with higher levels of passion and collective vision, but average levels of expertise and experience, perform better than teams with high levels of expertise and experience, and less of that passion and collective vision.
At SOSV I’ve worked with over 600 startup teams since 2009, in life sciences, hardware, food, and software, and the data we’ve collected using assessment tools like Ned Herrmann’s Brain Dominance Inventory confirms two basic truths.
Truth #1 — An individual able to tap into a range of intelligences to make decisions, communicate, and execute plans, makes a more effective team leader than an individual relying solely on analytical, visionary, or emotional intelligences.
Truth #2 — In a world running on hi tech, entrepreneurs who start out as brilliant engineers or scientists but fail to develop empathy or their more right brain intelligences along the way, struggle to be effective CEOs. At the extreme, analytically-minded founders lacking any sort of empathy have destroyed companies with almost psychopathic ferocity. And remote working and time zone discontinuities don’t help. The two worst cases I’ve come across in the last couple of months both involve co-founders trying to operate across continents and time zones.
None of this seems so critical in the early days, when founders are cocooned in a research establishment, university, or accelerator program. But when it comes to commercialisation and fundraising, that’s the time to seriously review the makeup of the team.
If you want to explore a couple of other processes which address the team issue, I’d recommend taking a leaf out of two special books.
Morgan Scott Peck, army lieutenant, medic, psychiatrist, and theologian, writes in The Different Drum about the four stages of building a community. (1) Pseudo-community, (2) Chaos, (3) Emptiness, (4) True Community. The best teams genuinely “share motives, and discussions, which even when heated never get sour”, but it takes time to get to this fourth stage.
More recently, Stanford professor Bill Burnett and Apple product designer Dave Evans write in Designing Your Life about how “…effective community is not having people with the right expertise or information. What works is people with the right intention and presence trying to work coherently with each other in an honest way”. Their program at the ‘D-school’ is the most sought after elective by students.
If you’re a startup founder within SOSV’s portfolio, why not join me on July 25th when I will be hosting a Team Building AMA (Ask Me Anything) in the Founders Forum at 10am PST. RSVP here.