Companies change. Products evolve. Approaches get thrown out the window. The centrifugal force alone of that kind of rapid development is enough to throw anyone off center. Throughout my experience, one guiding rule on team building in fast-moving companies has emerged: hire people, not skills.
It can be tempting when you’re first growing to hire someone specifically to fill a gap in your company’s skillset. If you hire someone for skills alone, however, they may lose balance as the company grows, when those skills are no longer as central or get placed into a different context. Each time I have built a team, personal traits – not professional skills – have been what propelled the company forward.
So, what traits matter? The answer is going to vary by company and founder, but I look for the following:
Cultural Fit (45%)
Fit is arguably the most important of any qualification. Start-ups can be very hard, and they become impossible if you don’t love the people around you. Getting the culture right is critical. No matter how stellar a candidate’s skills are, if they don’t fit well with your team, it won’t work out for anyone involved. Be careful here though: fit should not signal conformity. You do not need 12 identical personalities. You need a mix of people with differing perspectives but shared values. You need at team that is cohesive because of its differences.
Scrappiness and Drive (35%)
At Performable, we include scrappiness in the job description. We seek out people who have toppled challenges with very limited resources. This is not just about being lean. It is about the character of the team. The four most powerful words coming from a new hire are: “I’ll figure it out.” Find someone who you can trust to say that and follow through on it, and you’ve found a true asset.
This kind of drive is different than traditional ambition. Ambitious people will succeed at any task laid before them. They will personally excel, quickly rising from manager to director to vice president. A scrappy person who is driven does not rely on titles or defined responsibilities. He or she will push the company forward even when no one’s looking. Driven people move through the responsibilities on their lists, but also keep a constant eye on how the company as a whole can do things smarter and better.
Intelligence and Experience (15% and 5%, respectively)
Intelligence and experience are valuable, but a scrappy person who fits well on the team can learn fast. In a start-up, jobs are always changing. So when you think about intelligence and experience, make sure you are thinking about it in terms of a genuine hunger to learn and level of life-experience that enables the candidate to easily adapt and evolve.
Discovering these traits in candidates may come down to a gut feeling for many, but some of it can be illuminated by carefully posed questions and by getting a candidate outside of the typical interview set-up. Whenever possible change the setting, meet candidates outside of the office, at events or out for coffee. Get them talking rather than answering. Find out what it is that makes them tick.
Tine Thygesen’s talk at Build 0.5 focused on the three things entrepreneurs must do right in order to build great teams. Tine notes that entrepreneurs tend to have a couple of bad habits that can be mitigated by building great teams effectively. First, especially in building your team you must focus on the long haul. Teams that are committed and dedicated for the long term consist of great people. Great people might not be easy to get, but taking shortcuts here is not a good idea. While you might get average people easily into the team this is a poor long term solution. You need to attract great people from the beginning, because great people want to work with other great people.
A startup CEO is always hiring, and not necessarily for a role, Tine says. If you find absolutely great people, get them in, even if you don’t know exactly what they should be doing. On the flipside, this means that you must also fire people quickly if they are not contributing and not making the team greater than it was without them.
Second, you must make people come to you. While you are always hiring you cannot possibly do this all of your time. The war for talent means that this will continue to be your biggest challenge in growing a company. Tine suggests you must make yourself the talk of the town and the most attractive place to work in. Having great people already there helps, but you can also do more and reach out to the community, throw parties and enable co-working, for example.
Third, once you have the great people you must work hard not to lose them. People join companies but they quit bosses, Tine says, and suggests you must be conscious of this by leading from the front and involving the whole team. By doing the most boring, unappealing tasks, leaders can free their teams to do the exciting stuff that will further feed their enthusiasm for the team, and also gets them to pitch in with the boring things. “If you don’t take the trash out, don’t expect anyone else to take the trash out”, Tine notes. And by making sure that as a team grows transparency and communication get special attention, the team members sitting in the same room do not feel excluded from the leadership and from the decisions. If your team is disintegrating, you can’t do anything, Tine says. In a startup, keeping your team happy is even more important than keeping your customers happy. (via hackfwd.com)