When you start working on building a company in college the transition from college co-founder to twenty-something executive is almost too surreal. Add an employee, or two, and then work “gets real.” (I am not saying things weren’t real before, but the pressure of missing payroll for a group of people is exponentially greater than missing payroll for yourself.)
Since I graduated from Cornell University and committed to working full time on Practice Makes Perfect -- a nonprofit focused on partnering with schools and operating their summer programs in inner-city neighborhoods -- the organization has continued to grow. And this growth has equated to hiring more people.
While it has been exciting, onboarding can have its challenges.
Here are some tips on how to go from a "solo entrepreneur" to a team player.
1. Take responsibility for the big failures. Starting a company is a team game, as everyone has potential to lose something. But at the end of the day, the company is your baby.
So when a big loss occurs and you are to blame, don't point your finger at someone else. Quickly own up to your failures and take action to correct them.
2. Don’t hastily propose problems. Time is money and with only a few hires, these employees don't have a lot of it to waste.
There is a very thin line between looking for supporting solutions and already having a solution in mind. So make sure you articulate where you are in the problem solving or decision-making process. People love to feel included and want to help. However, they don’t like being taken on a ride or asked for their opinion, if it clearly doesn’t matter and the decision has been made or the problem has been solved.
3. Don’t own all of the big decisions. The reality is that every one will have to live with the consequences of your decisions, so they should be invited to help make the really big decisions. Because your team is small, make sure they have input (when applicable) and applaud their insight when it helps move your company forward, towards bigger milestones.
4. Be vulnerable. Entrepreneurs don't have all the answers, especially first-time founders. That's OK. Your team would rather have you solicit input in the areas that you are experienced in than make the wrong decisions, because you were scared to ask for help.
5. Bring your team to big meetings. When meeting with potential clients, vendors or partners, don't hesitate to include a hire or two. As long as they will be beneficial to the meeting, having your team involved can increase the level of inclusion at the organization, transparency around your work and can save you time in the long run if you feel comfortable sending them off to the meetings on their own.
6. Listen and deliver. This is plain and simple. Don’t just sit there and pretend you are hearing what your team is saying: Show that you’re listening. Offer feedback, ask smart questions and if a team member's input can improve your business, act on it.