How Companies Build Great Teams

Adam Carrigan
Dec 23, 2019 · 6 min read

Adam Carrigan is Co-Founder of MindsDB. Follow him on Twitter

The very words “team-building” can strike fear into the hearts of workers everywhere, afternoons of excruciating social embarrassment, trust falls gone wrong and the lingering knee pain from a rogue corporate paintball. But in reality, building a great team doesn’t need to be a painful process.

“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life forever.” — Amy Poehler

Diversity Matters

A diverse team is a more efficient, more creative, more successful, more profitable team. Hire a team that opens up your company’s international and experiential world. However, the creation of a diverse team doesn’t end with recruitment - it needs pro-activity, consistency and prioritisation.

With diversity comes the need for individualisation, you have to recognise the different skills, working styles and strengths of your employees and ensure there are resources and processes are in place to enable and support them.

This means making diversity a core value of your organization and ensuring that organizational goals are always aligned with this core value.

It means, as a leader, recognising your own biases and privileges.

It means having clear organizational principles and addressing behaviour or processes that do not align with these principles swiftly and ruthlessly.

It means actively listening and holding space for people.

Diversity is not a stamp of approval, or a flag waved, but an ongoing process of listening, learning and implementing.

At MindsDB, we aim to be transparent in our on-going journey to build better and more diverse teams. We like to celebrate where we think we do well and be open about where we could be doing better. Below is a demographic breakdown of our team at the end of 2020.

One of our aims in 2020 is to increase the number of women on our team, especially women in technical roles. We acknowledge we can do better here and strive to do so.

Relationships Come First

“Leadership is ultimately about influence and leverage. You are, after all, only one person. To be successful, you need to mobilize the energy of many others in your organization.” ― Michael D. Watkins

A diverse, effective team is one made up of complementary people — you need big picture strategists alongside detail-oriented analysts, extroverts and introverts, organizational wizards backing up creative wildcards. However, more than anything you need people you can mobilize, people whose attitude, energy and values can engage with your vision.

Invest in recruitment: Hire people whose attitudes, energy and values match yours. Skills and expertise can grow, but core values cannot be taught.

Let people move on: Don’t expect your team to remain static; embrace mentorship, internal training and growth.

Shut down toxicity: Address past issues and move on, shut down cliques/toxic micro-cultures quickly, lead with personal integrity and transparency always.

Accept mistakes: A team must absorb and acknowledge mistakes, not just successes. A great team exists to support, learn and grow from failure — a team does not exist just to triumph.

Fix processes, not people: If you recruit the right people when things go wrong you can fix the process and not the individuals. It is cheaper and faster to fix the process than it is to re-hire.

At MindsDB, we believe in the power of relationships, although we have employees all over the globe we make the time and assign resources to ensure we can all come together at conferences, workshops and team-building events. You can, of course, develop long term meaningful relationships remotely, however, there is no substitute for all being in the same place, chatting over a coffee/beer or bonding over a game of Fussball. Our blog plays host to event recaps like our recent trip to Bratislava for PyCon.

Ask Questions

Do companies really build great teams? No. People build great teams and these teams are made up of human beings. To build a great team you have to start with people first.

Human beings want to be heard, but learning to actively listen is surprisingly difficult. As managers and leaders, it can be difficult to quieten the mental cacophony, to put aside the myriad of thoughts and plans and to allow yourself to focus your attention fully on the moment at hand.

As a team, holding space for each other, listening without simply waiting to speak, listening without judgement, listening actively and inquiringly is a skill that needs practice. But a great team is one where people are truly heard, where a culture of collaboration and social sensitivity is fostered and fiercely protected.

Make time: Be consistent with your communications. In a world of international time-zones and remote working the day-to-day communication is so easily lost, an isolated team member is no longer part of the team.

Stay Curious

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” — Jack Welsh

Companies need a great vision — they need a goal, to create something meaningful, but unless you have a team to implement that vision you have nothing.

The challenge of motivation, of morale is probably the greatest challenge facing any leader, how to ensure the talented employees you have recruited can funnel that talent into efficiency and productivity.

How do you make a person engage with your vision?

Lead by example: Vision has to come from the top, principles must be lived and owned enthusiastically. Companies cannot simply pay lip service to their organizational values; they must be at the core of every action. People do not respond to motivational posters or half-hearted training sessions — you need to build personal credibility.

Clarity of roles: Achieving a grand vision requires a team to divide and conquer, but that division must be clearly defined. Teams need to be experts in their areas, to understand the expectations, but to have a good understanding of how they fit into the whole, how their battles fit into the war and the backup they can expect and provide at difficult times.

Don’t micromanage: Give your team autonomy and accountability. Trust your team. If you don’t trust your team — they aren’t the right team.

Involvement: The greatest way to engage someone with your vision is to make them part of it. Involve them with the planning, be transparent about the challenges. All levels of an institution, all elements of a team from the C-suite to the front-line staff will have perspectives that can be illuminating and surprising — a leader must always be a facilitator

Gratitude: Say thank you, say it often.

Work Smart and Make an Impact

The world of work is changing — our understanding of wellbeing, of mental health and in turn, of effective work practices has been revolutionised over the last decade.

We understand now that a great team is not one where an individual’s life is blindly focused within the team, not one where individuals compete to prove their worth by clocking longer hours in the office or less hours of sleep. A great team is sustainable, where members are able to find a work-home life balance, where work is delegated effectively and achievably.

A great team works smarter, not harder: Planning, communicating and implementing efficiently. It recognises the team member as an individual, supports their prioritization of their personal life and wellbeing. A great team actively recognises the value a team member brings and supports them in finding enjoyment and fulfilment in their work environment.

A great team requires great tools: Tools that will empower the team to succeed, that are effective, innovative, accessible and trustworthy. Without great resources there are no great teams.

At MindsDB, our vision is to be one of these great companies and to be a key part of thousands of teams. We have built our team to democratize machine learning, to ensure everyone can have access to explainable, verifiable, and comprehensive insights from their data.

We are a world-class, people-first company dedicated to driving innovation for the modern world and we built our team without a trust fall or a paintball in sight.

You can also follow our project on GitHub and Twitter

Get smarter at building your thing. Join The Startup’s +788K followers.

Thanks to Amie Darboe

By The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Subscribe to receive The Startup's top 10 most read stories — delivered straight into your inbox, once a week. Take a look.

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Adam Carrigan

Written by

Co-Founder at MindsDB, YCombinator & UC Berkeley SkyDeck Alum, former management consultant at Deloitte, University of Cambridge grad!

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +788K followers.

Adam Carrigan

Written by

Co-Founder at MindsDB, YCombinator & UC Berkeley SkyDeck Alum, former management consultant at Deloitte, University of Cambridge grad!

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +788K followers.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store