Developing a solid team is a vital step in the entrepreneur’s journey.
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January 14, 2021 5 min read
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When the entrepreneur first comes up with their idea (which I refer to as “sensing”) and when they first communicate it (which I refer to as “expressing”), they are living in the world of the self: “This is my idea and I am going to articulate it.” This is appropriate for these two stages, but for the next stage, the entrepreneur will need the help of others. They must reorient themselves from the world of the self to the world of the collective. They are going to need a team, and building, maintaining and enthusing a team is an entirely different skill set.
Team size and structure matters
Getting a right-sized team is a balancing act. The more people you have, the bigger the pool of talent and experience from which to draw. But a downside may be that there is a decrease in effective communication and coherence — too many cooks.
Related: Why Size Matters for a Working Team
Management-appointed teams are often characterized by a top-down leadership style, but the current practice of forming small ad-hoc teams to work on a specific project often results in shared leadership. In the case of Thomas Edison, he formed small teams of people with complementary skills and very clearly assigned them to specific tasks. This structure can also be of help when dealing with conflicts. Yes, the ultimate responsibility lies with the leader, but earlier resolution by those concerned at lower levels will invariably help. The leader should have more important matters on their plate.
It helps to be aware of the factors that can cause a team to underperform, and to be ready to step in and reset if need be. These can include such types as negative influencers, cynics, attackers, blockers, withdrawers, egotists, dominators and attention seekers.
The challenges of virtual communications
“The absence of informal, spontaneous communication opportunities … has a significant impact on how groups function,” the late CIA analyst Richards Heuer once wrote.
Daily contact allows for a continuing conversation about the task at hand, constantly updated learning, opportunities for challenge in a non-threatening context, a subtle understanding of one’s colleagues’ strengths and weaknesses, and an awareness of how the work is progressing in real time. Since the health crisis began in 2020, however, virtual communications have become even more dominant.
So how can we mitigate the negative effects of virtual communications in situations where team members may be contributing remotely? The following points may seem like common sense in any work context, but need to be emphasized in the case of virtual teams.
Set out a clear mission, and the procedures for evaluating progress and effectiveness.
Specify measurable objectives and milestones.
Identify roles and responsibilities, and the boundaries between them.
Agree on team behaviors. For example, people might say offensive things in e-mail and social media posts that they would never dream of saying face-to-face. Such behavior is unprofessional and can damage effective collaboration.
Make sure everyone understands the conflict-resolution procedures.
Define communication protocols.
Even if team members will have to work remotely most of the time, an initial face-to-face meeting or a boot-camp day together is invaluable for allowing members to get acquainted, to understand one another’s areas of expertise, and to build relationships on which to base future virtual communications. There is a high correlation between trust and successful teamwork.
The necessity of alternative viewpoints
Alternative points of view are vital to any enterprise, but it’s important that they are offered in the right style and attitude. More manners and less ego often helps, but failing that, consultants in team performance have come up with a range of strategies for gathering the widest range of options for teams to assess, some of which include:
Every member of the team should be given an opportunity to submit ideas, even if it means gathering them in written form (which allows those who might be reticent about making a contribution during a meeting to have their say).
The more senior members of a team should take an impartial position on controversial issues, so as not to inhibit the contributions of more junior members.
If each member of the team has been designated as an evaluator for one aspect of the project, their scrutiny and criticism will be officially sanctioned.
Inviting an external expert to challenge the team’s thinking will ward off groupthink.
Ranking alternative options means you have to do a more thorough evaluation of their merits, and this sometimes ends up with one of them moving up to become the first choice for a course of action.
These approaches allow for cross-fertilization of thinking and stimulate creativity as people build on one another’s ideas.
A good team is enthusiastic and clear-sighted about your idea, and they understand their role in your project. Be prepared to listen to the honest opinions of those you trust. The support of a team is essential as you move on to the next stage of your journey — planning.