Tips for CEOs & Company Founders: How to Build Your “A” Team

Recreaction of intertitle from The A-Team base...

The "A" Team: Image via Wikipedia

There are a number of formulas for success for building “can’t miss” start-up and founding teams.

Here’s one that actually works.

A disclaimer first; depending on your business you’ll need to have reasonable domain expertise. If you’re in the internet networking space, you need to have people on your founding team that have the technical chops to have the engineering aspects nailed, as well as somebody who understands the competitive market dynamics (who buys gear, who is the competition, who is a player, who is not, etc.). If you’re in the restaurant business, the same applies to cooking (need to have a chef who has worked in restaurant) and serving patrons, as well as people who understand the restaurant sector.

Beyond that, who sits on the founding team is by all rights pretty open to interpretation. You can pore over the start-up and founding company forums and get a zillion “right” combinations for what to have after the disclaimer above. Thoughts range from “the commercial founder” with the “technical founder” to the “must have” of a financial or BD person early.

Here are the three things that research (channel Ronal Reagan: “Facts are stubborn things.”) shows helps to have:

  • For decision making that is mid-to-long term, the University of Michigan’s Scott Page’s research has shown that diverse groups make better decisions than non-diverse groups. While there may be the lure of 4 20-something white males from Stanford to power a start-up, Page’s research shows that adding diversity produces better results. That diversity might come in a variety of flavors; background, age, race / ethnicity, socio-economic background, gender, national origin, etc. The simple fact is that it works. See Marten Mickos and the founding team at Eucalyptus Systems – something like people from 5 different countries – as one example.
  • Choose people with different work networks. Part of the start-up game is scaling quickly as needed. Such scaling frequently involves a “who do you know” referral network. If everyone is from the same network, the fact of the matter is you peter out someplace around 30-50 people because you’re mining the same motherlode of talent. Hiring diverse people (above) frequently (but not always) solves this problem – but you also want to make sure they come with diverse networks.
  • Make sure everyone is on the same bus; select people with the same vision for a destination, how you’re going to get there, and the same value set. Research by Douglas Smith and Jon Katzenbach in the teaming arena has shown that the best teams are teams that have 1) Same goal, 2) Clear metrics / deliverables, 3) Understood roles and responsibilities, and 4) Articulated and identified rules of engagement for how the team agrees they will work together.

The fact is that there is no sure-fire way to succeed, just like at times it can feel there are no sure-fire ways to fail. You can increase your odds for failure by founding a company, or starting a team, with these three factors in mind. Like many things in life, a little thoughtfulness can go a longs ways to anticipating problems, and increasing the opportunity ahead of you.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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