It seems as though every startup is scrambling to tack on bells, whistles and buzzwords to sell potential investors, partners and employees on why their team is the best. And while there are about a million articles floating around promising the necessary elixir for the perfect team, that’s not quite what I’m talking about here. There is no single, tried and true way to build the best team for every situation. It’s not about the add-ons and perks, it’s about the basics. So yes, you can sit socratic-style at all your meetings and hold weekly group meditations, and most likely both will make your team at least more interesting if not more synchronized, but when it comes down to it, your vision and the commitment of the people working towards your vision, are what makes a team WORK.
The other night I was out at happy hour with a few colleagues. We started casually talking about a marketable idea, and another round later, we had set up a Basecamp and were delegating tasks to our resident experts. The energy in our conversation was electrifying. Out of virtually nothing we were able to come up with not only a concept, but a product and a plan to build and sell it. Experiencing such excitement, unity and flow got me thinking, what is it about THIS particular team that was working so well? Because in stark contrast to the ease with which we assigned projects and the grace with which everyone offered up their time and resources to bring our vision to life, I’ve been a part of group projects that were prickly, tense, slow-moving and mostly made me want to introduce my head to a wall. So what was it about this group?!
I find that a lot of times team building strategies shy away from describing the exact types of people you want to look for and the ones you want to avoid. And I get it, what works in some environments might not necessarily succeed in others. However, considering that PEOPLE, not strategy...or road-mapping...or process, are at the core of a team’s success, one would be remiss if one didn’t tune into what makes someone good or bad to work with. Larger companies invest money and time in personality tests (DISC, Myers-Briggs, Strengthsfinder, to name a few). While these may seem like the 21st Century’s version of a horoscope, they are legit. And you can find them for as low as $15/person. For me, they’ve provided an effective foundation for understanding how to be compatible with team mates.
Let’s talk passion, or commitment if “passion” isn’t your thing. An individual who isn’t passionate about (or committed to) the desired goal, simply won’t put forth as much effort as other members. Particularly in early stage companies, when specialized individuals are doing their part to lift an idea off the ground, lack of effort creates setbacks and breaks trust that is needed for such a closely knit, interdependent group. If someone is doing their absolute best, then they expect others to do the same. Gaging energy, passion, commitment is key to assembling the team.
In the same vein, a team should be about the objective, NOT about out-performing your teammates. For a team to be successful, each member has to embrace that they are a badass in their own, unique, valuable and incomparable way. When building a project or company, the team’s focus should always be, expansive; zoned in on the final product, not individualistic and narrow. The surest way to build the former team is through working with confident, self-assured individuals who are proud of the work they do and have respect for the work their teammates do. Sounds obvious right...good people make good teammates who achieve good (or better!) results. But there’s a catch.
People aren’t static. They respond to the environments that they exist in. Even the most level-headed, self-motivated team members can grow resentful or lazy if they’re a part of a team that they don’t gel with. Many companies and thought leaders have picked up on this and have created hiring criteria based on cultural rather than technical fit. But what I’m talking about goes deeper than shared values in a work environment or alignment with company mission, although both come into play. The most important component of a well-oiled team is that its people actually like each other. Not just in a respectfully distant, coworker way, but in a fundamental and personal way. As a team, you’re going to weather scary presentations, late nights at the office and so many more difficult situations together. While trust and respect will GET you through those, genuine connections will transform stress into potential, setbacks into valuable lessons.
I’m in no way advocating that happy hour is the place to build your team, I am saying that chasing the dynamics of vision, compatibility, purpose, and most importantly, RESPECT are key when pulling your allies together.