All the entrepreneurs struggle to get the right team in place and usually this team defines their level of success. All of us are limited by our experience, skills, attitude, perceptions and biases.
While they motivate us in some cases, they also define our boundaries and limitations. We can never run a marathon if we believe that we can’t.
I have come across many articles and discussions in various forums about the various key skills required to be a successful entrepreneur. Some authors have made a list of nine top skills while the others advocated fifteen. But I stumbled upon the single most important skill in the most unlikely place. I was watching a motivational video by Mahatria Ra. He told the audience that the only skill one needs to be successful is to be able to build a great team.
Then how to make things happen? It is possible only when we can create a talent pool. A team of selected individuals who believe in the collective and common objective can move mountains. This ability to create well aligned and integrated synergy can dramatically improve the results.
Sir Richard Branson is often quoted about hiring the right people and leaving them free to do what they can do best. That is the most difficult thing to do. Can we surround ourselves with people better than us? People more skilled, more informed, more connected, more resourceful, more committed and more successful?
This is one of the biggest hidden fears of many entrepreneurs that someone will run away with their idea. This is where they fail to build teams and create synergy. They are so scared of losing they always play safe. They play not to lose, not for winning. This is a dramatically different mindset. Their teams will follow this doctrine and will never experiment or take small risks.
The next issue is the competency. Can we depend on a better person to deliver for us? Do we become too dependent on him? What if he starts dictating terms tomorrow? How to bring committed people together? How to attract them even though we are not in a position to compensate them adequately in the short term?
One of my friends from Jaipur ended up in such situation. A designer, he hired became very unpredictable. We discussed and decided to let him go, even though it meant a set back to the production.
Competency and compensation usually go hand in hand. But this need not be always true. There are many competent people stuck in boring jobs who are looking for new challenges. However, matching compensation is the key. Can the entrepreneur generate enough excitement and sense of achievement for the team so that they are willing to forego some benefits in the short term for greater future benefits? Is this made transparent enough?
I have seen many startups offering a tiny percentage of stake to the first set of employees. Can they really justify these numbers? This does not guarantee anything to the employees. A future bonus is better than these stakes.
How can the entrepreneur get the right talent on board? This is where the network comes into play. Senior people would be willing to take risks only when there are strong references about the venture from their own trusted network of professionals. How can the entrepreneur crack this challenge?
The whole focus then becomes building a strong network of like minded and supportive professionals who believe in our venture. Here the entrepreneur needs to become somewhat vulnerable by asking for help. If we don’t ask, we don’t get. This need not be seen as a sign of weakness but humility. As Ratan Tata said, if you want to go far, you need a strong team.
This team building process is learned best through sports. On the field, the objectives are crystal clear. The players are marked. The opposition is in our face. The rules are set and the referees are deployed. How can we rally our forces and the team to achieve the common objective? Are the team members willing to look out for each other and help each other? Are they comfortable if they don’t get individual recognition?
This is another issue. How can the entrepreneur appreciate and recognize the individual contributions without hurting other team members? It is very difficult to define the boundaries and allocate work in startups. Everyone needs to pitch in to do whatever it takes. Job descriptions won’t make any sense. How to identify such players?
How can we learn this process of team building? Are there formal mechanisms for the same? There are outbound training programs which focus on team building. But these programs generally bring an existing team together in a common setting. Then they are given some physical tasks and objectives to be achieved, working as a team. But how can we teach managers and entrepreneurs to build teams? This was evident during my selection process for the Indian Air Force.
We were given some obstacle courses which we had to complete as a team. The assessors were observing how each one of us was helping the team and working as a team member. Once this was completed, each one of us was made into a team leader and was asked to select our team. Then we were asked the reasons for selecting the members. Of course, there was no debriefing as it was a selection process.
We need a similar exercise to bring out our individual biases which influence our ability to select team members. Very rarely, current and future managers receive such training. They are expected to learn it by doing and they rarely get a structured assessment and feedback about this most important skill.
This needs to change. While all the trainers talk about the team life cycle of form-storm- norm and perform; very few people touch upon the mechanisms to crash this process and quickly get to the performing stage. This is a great opportunity for all of us.