What makes great teams ?

Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great” states the below.

First Who, Then What’

The good to great leaders understood three simple truths. First, if you begin with ‘who’ rather than ‘what’, you can more easily adapt to a changing world. If people join the bus primarily because of where it is going, what happens if you get ten miles down the road and you need to change direction? You’ve got a problem. But if people are on the bus because of who else is on the bus, then it’s much easier to change direction: “hey, I got on this bus because of who else is on it; if we need to change direction to be more successful, fine, with me.” Second, if you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away. The right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great. Third, if you have the wrong people, it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won’t have a great company. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

 However, the eleven companies profiled in Good to Great have not fared all that well

So, is the above premise flawed ?

Does the three truths hold water now ?

In my personal view, I do not think the premise is flawed and the above three truths still hold good , but is it a mandatory prerequisite for a Startup ?

I think , no.

If you happen to have the right kind of people, but I think you cannot be scouting for eternity. Getting the rubber on the road faster is essential and your decision on this need to be time boxed.

Here again, there is no magic formula and many things play a role. Everyone has their own view of what makes a good team and all theories will be formed once the team is successful.

I am not able to figure out what  are the right or wrong ingredients, but I will list the ingredients that I think are necessary.

Shared Purpose.

I think the “Why” of coming together is important. It can be anything, but unless the starting folks can see eye to eye on this, you are setting yourself for failure. Also I think there needs to be a clear initial time commitment from the people who are starting together.  In my view the minimum is three years and the maximum can be eternity.  Lifelong friendships can be formed or destroyed owing to a  casual and taken for granted approach here. It is better to say “No’ now , rather than regret later.

Complementary Skills

It is better to pick up a team with complementary skills and respect that  team member for the specific skill they are bringing in to the table. If that is not possible , clear roles and responsibilities should be assigned. This is not to create needless boundaries, but to bring in an obsessive focus to the job at hand. Polymorphic personalities in founding team are a blessing.

Where does the buck stop ? (One Person)

Holocracy  and other things are great, but it takes a lot of maturity to get there. I think you can drop this nice things for now and focusing on giving the baton to one person.  It does not matter that you are a group of peers, you will have to be extremely clear that there is only one person who shall call the shots. Period. Period. Period. Once you have handed that baton to this person, do everything in your means to support that person. It does not matter who this person is, but once you have decided this is the person where ‘the buck shall stop’, your behaviour has to be modelled to support this person in all possible ways.

Accountability to results

A Startup needs merciless execution and you have to hold each other accountable to outcomes. Empathy, compassion are great attributes to have, but I think you should hold them till you become an enterprise and bury it in a value document somewhere. Once you become great, you can ask people to start referring to that and once that happens you will be celebrated for your strong foundational values (Pardon my cynicism here, but quite frankly this is not the right time to focus on enduring values)

A start up has only  three cyclical activities encompassed by one word ‘Execution’.

  • Demonstrate Value to customers
  • Make Money from them
  • Rinse and Repeat

If you think, you cannot bring accountability to results,  then it is a glaring red sign.

Curiosity and Learning

I do not think we should be limited by what we know or what we do not know. You should have a team that has an insatiable appetite for learning, adapting and correcting. No one can prepare you for the ‘Black Swan’ moments, but a team that is hungry enough to learn continuously will be able to recover from those moments.

Self Deprecating Humour

This might look counter intuitive to all the above, but a team that takes themselves too seriously will have lot of trouble coping up with the variety of challenges that a Startup shall offer. A team should be able to say

‘Ok, folks. We messed it up right royally’

and follow it up with

‘Let us begin again’!

A final parting thought. Many a times people have asked, ‘Why do I need a team’ and now the term solopreneur has been coined for that kind of people. There is nothing wrong according to me, but at times you need some shoulder to lean on and it is just that good founding teams are force multipliers.

Also to remain aligned with this context  on what makes a team, I have included a related book review in this week titled ‘Five Dysfunctions of a team’. Those dysfunctions if unattended can break a team.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)