As an advisor to many startups today, I still see that most of you entrepreneurs see yourselves as the sole driver of your new solution, and the key driver of your new business. That’s not all bad in the beginning, but as you scale, every business has to build a team to keep up with the wide range of skills needed, fight new competitors, and respond to changes in the marketplace.
For many, it’s hard to make the switch from that top-down order-giving culture, and it’s hard to find the time to recruit and coach the new team members you need to scale the business to success. Many new businesses fail at this stage because they don’t build the required team culture to keep teams engaged and committed, and founders burn out trying to do too much.
Based on my own experience in large companies, as well as small ones, here are seven key strategies I recommend for building the teams and culture that will drive business success:
- Admit to yourself and others that you need help. Don’t let your ego and passion prevent you from building a team around you, listening to others with complementary skills, and delegating decisions as far down as possible. We all need to be humble and recognize that what we need to know about technology and the market changes daily.
- Identify a business purpose and goals that motivate any team. Today, modern teams are engaged by a higher purpose, such as improving the environment or helping the underprivileged, more than just money and profit. You need them to make a personal commitment to customer service, improved quality, and change to improve the future.Blake Mycoskie, TOMS founder, set a goal of donating a pair to the needy for every pair sold and maintains team commitment by providing international trips to assist partners in distributing shoes in interesting places, including Nepal and Honduras.
- Encourage your team to make decisions and take action. Many teams I know are frustrated by the never-ending debates and constant requests for more analysis by management. Satisfaction and commitment come from choosing a path to move forward, evaluating results and customer feedback, and learning from all their best efforts.
- Keep teams small, diverse, and collaborative. I find that teams greater than 8 or 9 people often get bogged down on internal politics, and have trouble really sharing data effectively or reaching consensus. People all need to trust each other and be able to recognize the value of diverse perspectives. Avoid long and never-ending projects.As an example, CEO Jeff Bezos at Amazon is known for his two-pizza rule: no meeting or team should be so large that two pizzas can’t feed the whole group. He is convinced this assures maximum productivity, and that no one’s ideas get drowned out or ignored.
- Practice active listening and open team communication. As the size and number of your teams grow, the amount of time you spend listening and communicating must also grow. Resist the urge to limit what teams need to know, interrupt negative messages, or jump quickly from listening to a solution. Promote the sharing of ideas and feedback.
- Foster a culture of constant learning, even from failures. Many new business leaders can’t wait to implement fixed team processes to improve productivity and minimize risk. While productivity is important, the bigger risk is not learning from customers and the market and falling behind. Reward new ideas, experiments, and critical team feedback.
- Be the model of customer focus for the team. Too many business leaders I know retreat farther and farther from the customer as their business scales. Make sure you schedule time for regular customer visits and make sure your team understands that providing value to more customers is your definition of growing the business.
As your business grows from a startup to a sustainable business, you too have to grow from an entrepreneur to a business leader. Of course, if your interests and passion don’t lean in this direction, you can always bring in an outside CEO who already has the skills, or you can merge or sell your startup to another enterprise, and move on to start your next new venture.
Just be aware that a winning team makeup and culture won’t happen by default. It takes recognition of the need and effort on your part. I urge every entrepreneur to take a hard look at their own situation – you may be a key part of the problem or the driver of the next unicorn business solution.