Build a Successful Startup by Building a Better Team

Great startup idea

Building good software is a hard technical problem, but the challenges involved in developing software components that work together sometimes pale in comparison to the challenges involved in building teams that work well together. This is true in teams of all sizes and in all phases, though the issues may seem magnified in the smaller, earlier-stage teams.

Much like with technical issues, you can reduce, if not avoid, interpersonal problems in your teams by simply paying attention and applying some good practices.

While people dynamics can make a difference in any team, they are particularly important in startups, especially among the founding members. In a large corporation, even though your team still has an impact, you may feel more like a cog in the machine. In a small environment, the team could be the difference between the company’s success or failure. As Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Lindred Greer points out, “The number one reason startups fail is people problems, and the second time around, entrepreneurs realize this.”

Greer suggests that teams be careful to evaluate potential hires for shared values and cultural fit. A small team is very much like a partnership, and there can be tense times, so being able to navigate disagreements is key. Assuming a base level of skill, values are more important that other qualifications when choosing among candidates.

However, selecting employees who have similar values and fit the company culture doesn’t mean hiring people who are all the same. There is a difference between having shared values and having shared preferences, lest you filter out diversity. Having people who challenge the status quo can help you build a more resilient culture and a more robust organization.

While how you select new members is important, a successful team starts with the founders and existing teams members. Greer says all successful startups need a clear mission (a brief statement of purpose) and vision (an action-oriented statement of how to realize the mission). The mission and vision can change over time, but everyone on the team should always have a clear idea of where the team is going and how they plan to get there. Without this alignment, it’s hard to move forward consistently.

Startups have their own specific issues and challenges, and the smaller size of a startup can magnify team dynamics in a way that makes failure points painfully obvious. These teams can benefit from starting with a clear company mission and vision and by evaluating how well new members manage conflict and share the values of the team.

Once you have a well-functioning team, you can focus your energies on the technical problems with confidence.

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