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What Makes a Good Team?

With all the political emphasis on Obama's 'team of rivals' approach, I've been thinking about what makes a good team.  Politics is different than entrepreneurship, however.  Lincoln had to appease various constituencies to maintain support for his policies.  As the country was at risk of being torn apart, with him as President but relatively unknown, he needed support from other power holders.  In a company, it's very different.

On a corporate team, you want to have representation from various types of experiences:

  • In your market, and from outside your market
  • In companies your size, and those that are larger (or smaller)
  • People from various companies, and not too many from any one company
  • Independent thinkers who aren't afraid to express their opinion
  • But, also people are are able to 'disagree and commit' if a decision doesn't go their way

Personal chemistry is also critical.  You have to enjoy working with the people on your team, but you don't have to be their friend socially.  In fact, I think it's better if that's not the case.  If you become personal friends, you can lose objectivity.  Be friendly, but not friends.

On a team, it's important to set the right culture.  Make sure everyone has a chance to be heard.  And, make sure that everyone's opinion is respected.  Team members want to feel valued.  However, once the leader makes the decision, that has to be followed.  A good leader is also willing to revisit decisions in light of new information.  You have to be flexible and have the courage to be right, even if you started off wrong.

The way that the leader operates will set the tone for the team.  I always expect very high ethics and integrity in any leader.  They shouldn't tolerate less than that from their team.  If a leader exhibits less than that, it sends a message to others that they are better served by cutting corners to get the 'right' result.  Before you know it, you have Enron.

Another important team dynamic is getting rid of people who don't pull their weight.  Although no one wants to see someone fired, knowing that poor performance isn't tolerated is actually a motivator for the strong members of the team.  It may scare poor performers, but you don't want them around anyway.  Rely on the input from your team in assessing team performance.  They will always know who is great (and who is poor) before you do.

There is no magic formula for the right team, but don't be afraid to hire team members who are even stronger than you are.  They'll make your company stronger.  Would you be worried about hiring someone who turns out to be so strong that they could become your boss?  If so, you probably aren't qualified to make the hiring decision yourself.  From the company's perspective, those great people will lead the company into the future.

What other approaches have you used to build a strong team?


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The single most effective thing I have found in adding people to my team is to determine whether or not people take responsibility for themselves. Their work capabilities (or lack of them) are usually pretty evident right away, and I've seen many people hire on this quality alone. However, I've found that when asking a few pointed questions about past experiences as they relate to who is responsible for the place in life at which these candidates find themselves, I can separate the capable from the exceptional.

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