Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's The Team, Stupid

I've never been a fan of those corporate outward bound type team-building activities, where the team goes white-water rafting or does a psuedo-boot camp mud crawl together, or any number of other perilous physical activities, but I do think after working in a few start-ups in roles as varied as CEO, CMO, low-level lackey, Advisory Board member, and everything in between, that the team IS everything.

Most people give the well-known venture capitalist, John Doerr, credit for the mantra about teams being the most important factor in a successful start-up. Here he is in an interview on the Harvard Business School Alum site,
There are plenty of ideas, entrepreneurs, venture capital, markets, and technologies out there. What's lacking are great teams. So a key service from venture capital has become team-building and recruiting. Management skills are absolutely crucial to the quality of teams, and quality teams are what set the winners apart from their competitors.

He's right as rain. He's quoted earlier in that same piece talking about the best teams having a sense of URGENCY. Again, he's spot on. And because there should be a sense of urgency, the team has to function even more smoothly. When things get hectic, then go from fast to furious, you have to trust your team members and have exquisite communication among them to be decisive and effective. Think Flying Trapeze. Think Cirque de Soleil. Now that's a team-building activity I'd love to participate in -- circus skills, acrobatic derring do, try tossing your partner in mid-air, knowing another team member is there to catch them, yes, that would be the thing. You need almost that much agility to navigate a dynamic start-up business environment.

But the truth is, so few teams really do work well together. There are egos, politics, power plays, everything pulling in the opposite direction of trust and cooperation. Many of us haven't gotten much past the kindergarten level, wanting to yell, "That's Mine! Don't Touch!" when it comes to territory, taking credit, sharing resources or just acknowledging another teammate's good or better idea. Still, at least, thought leaders like Doerr can give us something to aim for, telling the truth about the real challenge of building a great product, which is first, build a great team.

Photo Credit: Quasartrapeze