The How-To: Building (And Managing) A Team For Your Startup
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In a recent article, I quoted a favorite saying of mine from renowned business management expert Kenneth H. Blanchard: “None of us is as smart as all of us.”
And in line with this –and as I stress often– if you want to build a business, you need a team of people. When it comes to being a successful freelancer, working solo is fine, and many thrive off of that and find a tremendous level of comfort in it, but there is a big, big difference between being an independent contractor and being the head of a company with employees.
Building and managing a team is a challenge for all entrepreneurs, but particularly for the first-time business owner who is in many cases learning by trial and error. Some never get it right; however, those who recognize it for the challenge that it is tend to refine their skills and over time find some sort of happy medium when it comes to interacting with others on the boss-employee level.
I say “happy medium,” because it is a very hard thing to actually have a real mastery over, and a big part of that is due to the fact that much of it is out of your control. You are dealing with different personalities and, even more complex, you are dealing with different moods on different days. Despite the old saying about “leaving your problems at the door,” for your employees (and for you), there is indeed no real separation between personal problems and work problems. They are all “life problems,” and they follow us everywhere we go. This means that there will be a lot of extra variables quietly affecting things in the background.
Add to all this that as a company leader, you are in a much more challenging position, because you are boss, colleague, and provider all rolled into one. And this means you also have to be a great political performer. Your team looks to you for guidance, but they don’t want to feel small. And they are looking for security, expecting your decisions to give them that, yet at the same time they will often challenge the decisions you make that you do for the very purpose of building a secure company that pays salaries on time every month and also offers opportunity for personal career growth.
It sounds like an almost impossible task, doesn’t it? Well, if the aim is to do it all perfectly, then yes, it is an impossible task. But if the aim is to do it well and to constantly improve, then you have a realistic objective in front of you. Let’s now look at five things you can do as company owner and leader when it comes to interacting with your team.
As Aristotle once said, “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.” Quite simply, you have to take the time to train your workforce. If you want something done a certain way, then you need to be prepared to put in the groundwork to show how it’s done– and indeed, to figure out how best to do it!
There’s nothing to be gained from handing down a few garbled instructions and then complaining that the result doesn’t in any way match your vision. Explain, train, and keep doing it with each major foundational task until things are where you want them to be.
While this approach may seem meticulous, do not confuse it with micromanaging. This is not that. This is about ensuring you build a foundation that will help you realize your vision to the standard of excellence you want. Don’t expect others to guess what that standard is.
As you grow, you will have more layers of people at the company, and you will be hiring experts that can do certain things far better than you could ever do in those areas. And although it will then be up to them to manage the training for their teams or their departments, you still want to be sticking your head in there every now and then to remind everyone of how important it is they deliver to the highest standard.
2. Understanding personalities
A sure-fire way to get better at working with others is to gain a deeper understanding of personalities. Different personality types require different approaches, and by doing some research and learning around this topic, you will have a greater insight into what makes each of your employees (or those reporting to you) tick.
While it may seem to some like a psychological trick or some dark art of manipulation, it is in fact not about that at all. This is about working towards greater cooperation and effectiveness. According to research by Forbes, personality tests are used by around 80% of Fortune 100 companies for the purpose of building stronger and more effective teams.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), perhaps the most popular of these tests, is a great place to start. Myers-Briggs consists of four categories of personalities, with 16 sub-categories, and once you are familiar with them it can be fairly easy to get a general feel for a person’s personality type. You can then benefit from this information by deciding how best to interact with others depending on the situation.
3. Delegate: learn to let go, and trust
Ah, delegation: easier said than done. And that’s because the vast majority of entrepreneurs are (and I mean this in the nicest possible way) control freaks. This in turn means that delegation only tends to occur when there is no other option– business owners literally work themselves to capacity and only then do they start to hire and pass off tasks. And that is all fine. It just means delegating is going to inevitably happen as your company naturally grows.
But delegating is also an art, and so whether forced on you (again, because you are at capacity and can no longer do the work on your own) or not, you still have to do it right. The most important rule of thumb when delegating is to fully hand over ownership of a task or project– as opposed to still holding on to some of the work. By holding on to some of the duties you will only create confusion with respect to who is responsible for what, and then you have the major issue of no one actually having full accountability for things.
To delegate you need to let go of a task or duty with the intention of never taking it back again. It is part of your company growth. But again at the same time you still have to ensure everyone is on the same page and forward progress is happening across all teams and departments, so handing off does not mean you don’t care anymore. It’s just a different way of getting the same thing done. Different in that others are now doing it, and your connection to that end task is through them.
4. Learn to be persuasive
Genuine charm and a natural likeability will get you a long way in business, and if you have both– lucky you. For the rest of us, we have to learn the art of persuasion as best we can. As an entrepreneur, you essentially spend your time convincing others that your way is the right way. Whether you are interacting with investors, colleagues, employees, or clients, you need to be able to get them on board. Once you achieve that, they are persuaded.
When it comes to employees, this is not simply about telling people what to do. If you simply hand out orders, your staff might agree with you because you’re the boss, however there is no guarantee that their hearts are in it or that they will complete the task to the best of their abilities.
A 2012 study by The Harvard Business Review found the power of persuasion to be an absolutely essential trait of the successful entrepreneur, and it’s not hard to see why. A leader is only successful when his or her team gets behind the vision because they want to, not because they have to.
To be clear on this, persuasion is a mix of “results” and “you.” That is, a smooth talker can fool some of the people some of the time, but won’t get far in the long run. You have to have good ideas, and you have to have strong arguments for things– and everything has to be backed up by ongoing successes. That is, as you prove yourself to be a capable leader who time and again makes decisions that benefit the company and the team, you will naturally become more persuasive, because actions are indeed the strongest currency.
But still, you want to get those people skills sharpened. Reading books on likeability, relationship building, negotiation, communication, and so on, and practicing these all daily will keep you as well rounded as you need to be.
5. Be polite, compassionate, and never condescending
While it would be nice to think that most people in the business world conduct themselves with politeness and compassion, unfortunately there is still an outdated notion that ramping up the pressure and ruling with an iron fist is the way to get results. In reality, it is firm but fair that rules the day, not aggressive and intimidating.
Perhaps the best way to do this one right is to remind yourself that to work well as part of a team you must consider yourself to be exactly that– part of a team. The business world is too often about who earns more or who has a more impressive job title, and the “dictatorship-style” makeup of it all often means that those in positions of power can abuse that power if they choose to.
But that means nothing when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of getting results, so look past the titles and the power and remember at the core that we are all equals on this journey.
And with that thought, I will leave you with this one: politeness and compassion are wonderfully contagious, and when the boss in particular is the one who acts accordingly, the company culture gets defined accordingly.