Q: I’m almost finished gathering a team that will support my startup. Having been on many work teams before, I believe this group has the right chemistry. I also know how teams that seem good from the outset can become dysfunctional and kill a startup. What are some “core” ways to keep a team connected and productive from the start? Gina B. Chicago, IL
Most experts on teams and team building agree that good communication early on is “core” to a startup’s success. Therefore, consistent and on-going efforts to strengthen your team are a worthwhile investment. One of my favorite books on the subject of teams and team building is “The Best Team Wins: The New Science of High Performance” by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton. This book does a great job of exposing the obvious and not-so-obvious ways teams break down, especially in light of the fact that many teams are composed of several different age groups and cultures and that much team work is done electronically. At the end of their book, the authors offer 101 ways to inspire your team. Let me point out three of the most successful suggestions, I have witnessed, that build a strong core of connection/communication with your team early on:
1) Take time to get to know your new hires. Go for a walk or to a coffee shop, but get out of the office. Let them do the talking and learn about their interests, background, goals, values etc. Watch and listen to them go from being an “employee” to a real person. Look for commonalities and interests you share. It is a rarity for an employee to experience genuine interest from an employer. Conversations like this enhance loyalty and trust. By listening mindfully and discovering more than what their resume had to say, you as the CEO or founder, can use your creative instincts to help them be greater assets to the company. You may also pick up on some warning signs that could come into play later in the game.
2) These “get to know you” conversations can also be done on a group level. Employees pair up, go out for coffee or lunch and learn as much as possible about their partner. At the next meeting team members share their findings to the group. They are encouraged to look for opportunities to work together to advance the company’s mission.
3) Don’t stop there! Gostick and Elton suggest Ninety-Day Questions. By that time people will know whether they fit in or not, and whether they are making important contributions. Asking questions like: Is the job what you expected? Are you experiencing any roadblocks towards your goals? What can we improve upon? What makes you want to come to work every day? These are great ways to reinforce the positives and to identify weak spots or concerns that could become costly to the business.
Strong teams (and money!) are the lifeblood of successful startups. Send your questions about team communication to [email protected]. Confidentiality is honored.