Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Getting the team organized.

Startup teams should come with a label that says “some assembly required.” Teams are a higher form of organism than groups of individuals who are sharing information and tasks. Real teamwork exists only after group members have made and demonstrated their commitment to shared goals, visions and values, and after they’ve articulated and reached consensus on their roles and responsibilities. If you start with an informal, unstated management philosophy, then there’s no formal process to fall back on when you grow to employ hundreds of people.

Team members should be clear about, “Here’s what I’m offering the group. You can count on me to lead when we're dealing with these issues.” This clarity should emerge from a discussion of what team members expect from each other. The usefulness of this discussion depends on the degree to which individuals understand each others’ jobs and responsibilities. Informed resolution of individual positions, requests, offers and counter-offers leads to an agreement about who will provide leadership for what. Each venture team member should have a formal accountability and performance agreement.

Never assume the obvious is apparent to others. If X equals the number of people in a group, then X squared minus X equals the number of possible misinterpretations of anything communicated. So, with two people there are two possible misinterpretations, with three people there are six, but with five people there are 20 possible misinterpretations.

Conflict promotes two common reactions. People either join political coalitions or seek isolation in their work (which is perceived either as a safe haven or a place where they get their greatest satisfaction). When people can’t deal with personality conflict, they tend to get busy on the task and hope everyone else is mature enough to go along. Smart people miss the mark when they’re insensitive to cultural issues. Economically oriented finance people and analytically oriented engineers often find the topic of norms and values too soft for their tastes. So they ignore culture - to their peril.

Terry Morse's rules for success: (Morse was a founder of Salient Software).

Rule #1: Make the decision that makes the most money.

No matter what their mission statements say, all for-profit businesses have one overriding purpose: making more money. Try convincing an investor that he should settle for a lower return on his money and you'll appreciate the importance of this rule. Making the world a better place is great, as long as it makes you and your investors lots of money.

Rule #2: Don't give your customer any excuse to say "no."

This simple rule covers every aspect of a product, including features, safety, support, and price. Consider your potential customer's decision making process, and make sure your product or service eliminates his doubts before he can formulate them. Talk to the people who don't buy your product to find out what’s keeping them from doing business with you.

Rule #3: If you're very smart and work very hard, you can do one thing well.

Business books will tell you to "focus on your core competence," or something similarly trendy. Simply restated, this means - work like crazy on the one thing your company does better than anyone else, and don't get distracted. Others may tell you to diversify your product line, or extend your business into new markets. Don't do it! A startup company has limited resources and limited market recognition. A diluted focus is a slow road to oblivion. To test if your company has a tight focus, see if you can describe your business and its products in one sentence.

Have a happy Thanksgiving. I'll be back on Friday with a poem.

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