Experience Shared

Ted Stearns Entrepreneur Advocate

Everything you need to build a high performing team

henry ford quote

Where to begin

Look, starting a business if fraught with so many challenges and potential land mines that’ll blow you to bits in a nano second, that we wouldn’t be able list all the challenges on one page. But if we could sum it up into 5 critical components, building the right team would be near the top. Because a good team can work together to spot those land mines and navigate around them allowing you to live another day.

Here’s what happens, if you are a sole founder, it’s you and only you. You are the one working 16 hours, plotting your next move, building your strategy. You are the one weighed down with heavy decisions and you are the lone soldier on that battlefield late at night with snipers looking to take you out with a bullet to the skull. And so, what we want to do is build a team because we realize we can’t do it alone.

One of the first decisions you’ll have to make as a leader is building your team. Know this, a good team can launch your company like an intercontinental ballistic missile with 1.2 megaton warhead into the stratosphere or it can sink your company into the icy depths of the North Atlantic like the Titanic.

First ask yourself one question

Founders can get lonely so first you have to ask the question, and you have to be brutally honest, are you hiring someone because you are lonely and you want a warm body next to you (not a good reason) or because there is a vacancy of skillsets which is prohibiting your company from moving forward?  If you conclude that you are hiring because your company cannot move forward without the certain skillset then, then see  below.

Who do you know?

In the beginning it is easier and also wise to look around at the people you already know to fill these roles. You want people that you’d love to work with, not necessarily those who are top in their fields or have the most impressive résumé.

Sara Blakely was right on with this, “The smartest thing I ever did was hire to my weakness”

Here is what you need to know; do they share your vision, are they willing to burn their ships at the bay and cut all sources of retreat? Are they willing to risk everything to see the vision succeed? If you are giving up equity, you need dedication.

Team roles and rules

Now that you’ve chosen your team members, you have to be perfectly clear what their roles and responsibilities are. For example, on a racing sailboat, every crew member has a role and responsibility. There are 7 basic positions on a sailboat and each of the 7 crew members are responsible for their roles. The Bowman hoists and lowers the sails, the Main Trimmer trims the main sail and provides feedback to the Skipper. The Port Jib trimmer trims the spinnaker on the downwind. Each member knows exactly what they need to do, because if the Skipper is yelling commands to the Main Trimmer to trim the mainsail but the Trimmer is unsure of his role, the Skipper can yell all day long but the boat is going to keel over and capsize if the Trimmer doesn’t clearly know it his responsibility to man the mainsail.

sailing team

You will want to get your team started on a project that allows them to grow into their roles, perform their tasks, and learn to work with one another. You need to define team roles and rules. Make sure your Trimmer knows how to trim the mainsail. In the stress of a startup environment it’s easy to throw a project at a team and expect team driven results without giving them all the information they need. Take the time to frame up the project for your new team with expectations, roles, and deliverables. Explain the company processes, desired outcomes, and why this project is important to the company. This allows your eager new team to begin with all the tools they need to succeed and minimize frustration. This is how you begin to build a high performing team. If you don’t do this, your boat will capsize.

Follow the leader

Now that your team has a project to work on and they know their roles, problems will inevitably arise. It is crucial for this reason that you become their leader. Personalities will conflict, confrontations will happen, arguments will break out between sales and developers and you do not want the team questioning leadership. As team leader you will know how to make the decisions that are in the best interest of the company, with the skill to have the team come to an agreement over the issue. A ship without a Captain will run aground, a CEO that is not a leader will go the way of Zenefits.

How to spot a high performing team

Once your team members have developed their workflows and finished a few projects you can look for the signs of a high performing team. Ask yourself,

  • Do they trust each other?
  • Do they seek each other’s opinions?
  • Do they all voice their own opinions?
  • Can they resolve their conflicts?

If the answers to these questions are yes, you have a high performing team that is ready to tackle any problem with blazing efficiency. Ensure they stay that way by giving them new challenges, allowing them to delegate more, encouraging mentorship with new members, and rewarding them for their combined excellence. Remember this quote from Henry Ford when you build your team,

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” –Henry Ford


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Entrepreneur Advocate

Ted Stearns

As an entrepreneur myself, my passion is to help create an environment where business owners have the best odds at success. -Ted Stearns