Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

5 Reasons why Teams Fail

“You will find men who want to be carried on the shoulders of others, who think that the world owes them a living. They don’t seem to see that we must all lift together and pull together.” Henry Ford

I started this series with a question posed by a reader  asking  why some teams succeed and others don’t. When I began structuring my thoughts and getting advice from more experienced entrepreneurs, the same issues kept coming up in one form or other. The core message behind all of them was the same, to get the team to work right, certain factors need to be in place along with hardwork and persistence. We have all been in teams where team cohesion is problematic, it is always an extremely frustrating experience. Hence first off, selection of team members/partners is an extremely important aspect, one that needs to be given a great deal of attention. Call it co-incidence, my post on 8 characteristics of an ideal business partner is the most visited post on this blog. However, even after you have reviewed your prospect partners using the 8 step process, there is still a likelihood of things not working out. Listed below are 5 things to look out for to measure the health of your team:

1. Mismanagement of Competing Interests: When a team comprises of many ‘star’ performers they are bound to have multiple offers on the table. When these offers begin to interfere with their performance and their  commitment to the project at hand, problems begin to arise. If these are left unmanaged they will slowly set seeds of mistrust and suspicion in other team members, this has a destabilizing impact on the entire team. It is important that these competing interests are brought to the table and are not used to leverage a team member’s position or interfere with their commitment. To read more about managing competing interests please click here.

2. Lack of Candor: The ability to communicate effectively is one of the core reasons why some teams succeed and others do not. When a team is unable to communicate their thoughts, suggestions or feedback openly, tensions arise. Being candid is every team members responsibility to themselves and to the rest of the team. This is not always the easiest path to take and many a time one will need to step out of their comfort zone to say it as it is. However when all is said and done, it is the things which are left unsaid that destroy a team from within. Set up systems where everyone is given the opportunity to speak freely and easily. To learn more about the importance of candor please click here.

3. Lack of Trust: In any relationship trust is a must, without it there is no team. In my opinion there are degrees of trust which need to be developed within a team. Expecting your team members to have 100% trust in you and your abilities from the get go is wishful thinking. Trust needs to be earned. The ability to trust someone depends on their shared core values, self confidence and risk tolerance. Mismatches in these components will result in a slow build up of trust. Low trust teams are very fragile and the slightest of hiccups can have severe ramifications. To learn more on how to build trust please click here.

4. Lack of Accountability: When team members talk more than they actually do, problems are bound to arise. Without clear objectives on what each team member is responsible for a culture for execution cannot be formed. Without such a culture certain team members may ride on the coat tails of others just to get by. Every team member must be held accountable for what he/she has been given responsibility. Inability to meet commitments, needs to be reviewed and appropriate action taken. To learn more on the importance of accountability and how to create it please click here.

5. Consistent Poor Results: If a team is consistently unable to reach targets and goals, the team and entire business model needs to be looked into. Many teams linger on even when results are clearly not being produced. This puts an enormous strain on the team and eventually leads to unpleasant defections and confrontations. This issue must be dealt with as soon as possible and strategies and tactics revised. If the team is unable to produce the results it needs, it is best to figure out how and where the team should  go from there. To learn more about how to deal with consistent poor results please click here.

The points listed above are I believe leading factors why some teams fail. One of the factors that I have not included in this series is a lack of good leadership. This is an issue that I think needs to be tackled in a separate series. Also, unlike the problems listed above this issue does not have any easy answer which says follow steps 1, 2 and 3 to help overcome the issue. Good leadership is a rare commodity. It all goes back to team selection and who is chosen to be the leader. If there is a problem at the initial selection stage then the team has a lot more to be worried about. The issues highlighted in this post are in the context where even though the team and team leader were correctly selected, the team still fails. I hope to get your comments and feedback on this series.

Related Posts:

8 Characteristics of Ideal Business Partners

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Consistent Poor Results

“Waiting is a trap. There will always be reasons to wait. The truth is, there are only two things in life, reasons and results, and reasons simply don’t count.” Dr. Robert Anthony

During the course of the week I have spoken about some key factors which lead to high performance teams failing. As a culmination of all the factors mentioned in my prior posts, the inability to reach targeted bottom line results, is a leading cause why such teams fail. I was advising a young startup team a few years ago, it was full of stars. They had a fantastic business plan and worked really well together. However the business was not gaining the traction they had projected. This was causing much tension within the team. This is a time when internal conflicts begin to surface. Initially no one really talked about it, rather they hoped that things would change. Unfortunately the market they were targeting was not ready for the product they had and soon the defections started to take place. This is a story one has seen many a time in small startups, as well as large companies.

It is only natural that when things are not going well that team members begin to explore other alternatives open to them. They are justifiably looking out for themselves and being realistic about the situation. However, if the business had created a culture of accountability and candor, I believe things may have gone very differently. Firstly, when things were obviously not working, how to tweak the business model would have been brought up and discussed candidly. Secondly, with greater transparency in the team, those individuals who were not contributing or whose skills were not required, could have started exploring other opportunities without suddenly leaving the team. Lastly, if the team did work well together there could have been other opportunities which they could have pursued.

Consistent poor results are definitely a major reason why teams and businesses fail. The key word is ‘consistent’. Losses are bound to occur at some point or other in a business. However, it is when they continue to appear without any direct action being taken, that it gets serious. As a team leader one needs to continuously keep a keen eye on key metrics and regularly update members about results and problems being faced. Transparency helps leave doors open for candid discussions and gives  team members the opportunity to make graceful exits. Warren Buffet has some wise words on this matter “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

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Lack of Accountability

Accountability breeds response-ability.” Stephen R. Covey

Starting a new business is a lot of fun. The first couple of months everyone is really enthusiastic. People are making sales calls, improving the website content, developing new marketing concepts and generally being highly productive. After the initial couple of months or even a year, there is a dip. The spark of starting this new revolutionary business begins to wear thin (unless you started something like Google). All of a sudden those sales calls are not being made and there is just not enough attention being given to the key first customers which you closed. I have experienced this in the first couple of ventures I was a part of. Whenever a routine set in, the enthusiasm levels began to drop. This then brings us to the next factor that results in the falling out of teams…a lack of accountability.

From the very onset of a business venture, clear objectives and targets need to be set for every team member. They need to be accountable for a specific component of the business. The progress on this must be reviewed periodically. I believe it is usually a lack of clear objectives that brings about a lack of accountability within teams. This is the leader’s or senior management’s fault. It is a reflection of poor leadership skills and is often taken advantage of by individuals riding on the coat tails of the effort of others. I have been  part of many teams whether it be at school or in a business, when someone or other on the team takes advantage of the free rider problem and ends up taking undue credit for the success of the team.

The components  talked about in my recent posts, such as lack of candor and trust, usually lead to this lack of accountability. When there are no clear objectives communicated to team members, and this is compounded by a lack of trust between team members, there is very little motivation to work  hard. Neglecting this aspect of a business will result in inadequate traction and eventually lead to a poor bottom line results. I will talk about that in the final post of this series. In conclusion, make sure that everyone in the team is held accountable to certain SMART goals and targets. This is essential to meet positive bottom line results and eventually succeed as a team.

Related Posts:

Execution of Corporate Strategy

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Lack of Candor

“You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.” Indira Gandhi

I have written about the importance of candor in earlier posts. When teams are unable to communicate effectively, problems start manifesting themselves from all angles. Most start up teams comprise of 3-5 individuals who usually work in very close proximity. When these individuals are unable to speak their mind or voice their opinions, tension begins to build up. I have noticed that this phenomenon occurs more where teams are comprised of individuals from the east rather than the west. I do believe this has much to do with culture. In Malcom Gladwell’s new book ‘Outliers’ his research validates this claim, delineating how Asian cultures affect the way an individual is supposed to communicate with another. It is about not ruffling feathers and ensuring that a status quo be maintained.

As a direct result of this mindset, conflicts are avoided at all costs. This further intensifies any frustrations plaguing the team. Lets face it, no one wants to be the one to bring bad news to the table. This is more the case when the team comprises of friends or associates you have been working with for an extended period of time. The feeling that there is a lot more at stake compels us to push these frustrations deeper. As a result of this almost unnatural behavior, the competing interests I spoke about yesterday begin to surface. Alternative routes available to team members start to become more attractive and this leads to greater diffractions in the team.

Lack of candor is a serious issue, one I have personally witnessed many a time. Writing about it is one thing,  putting yourself out there and talking about this uncomfortable situation is a completely different matter. To a large extent, the development of a culture of candor is dependent on the founders or individuals leading the group. It is only when all team members are comfortable talking about these matters and are assured that their comments and feedback help the team progress, will one see greater buy in from everyone. Undoubtedly this will require stepping out of your comfort zone. The benefits far outweigh the downside in this matter. More importantly, the future of your team may depend on it.

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Mismanagemnt of Competing Interests

“Wearing the same shirts doesn’t make you a team.” Buchholz and Roth

Reflecting through the past couple of the ventures I have been part of,  this was one of the things which struck me as a vital cause for a team’s eventual downfall. The issue of managing competing interests is prevalent in most teams and organizations. However in teams which include many ‘stars’, this issue gets amplified. The reason being that stars are always on the look out for new opportunities, they are approached by many individuals who want them to be a part of their ventures and they are also approached by headhunters who are scouting for senior positions. In short these individuals have many options available to them from the onset and pinning them down to work on one business is very difficult. Multiply this issue by the number of stars in the team and there is substantial work to be done by the leader.

Looking at the bigger picture, a misalignment of interests is something that start-up companies have to deal with very often. From the very beginning, founders want different things from the venture. When investors come in, they have a different set of objectives and the employees of the venture will have another set of objectives. The entrepreneur needs to manage all of these competing interests by making sure that channels of communication are kept open and as candid as possible. It is when these competing interests are kept under wraps that they tend to blow out of proportion when brought to the surface.

Therefore in conclusion we have to accept the fact, that every team will have to deal with it’s share of competing interests. In dealing with them it is important not to allow any member of the team to use those interests to undermine the positions of others or to leverage themselves unfairly. Also, mismanagement of competing interests will lead to a drastic reduction of the focus of the team member. This further amplifies the problem, and soon the team finds itself moving away from each other. With transparency the team will be able to get a better idea of how it should proceed and who should stay on the team and who should leave. This can only be possible when a culture of candor has been embedded into the team. This leads me to the next factor which is the lack of the candor.

 

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Why do some teams fail?

“The key elements in the art of working together are how to deal with change, how to deal with conflict, and how to reach our potential…the needs of the team are best met when we meet the needs of individual persons.” Max DePree

Recently a reader asked me why some teams fail to succeed even though they have all the right people in the right place. It got me thinking about my experiences with various teams, and the things that went wrong. Teams who have selected team members well, but still do not produce the results they should, suffer from fundamental problems with their structure. A couple of examples come to mind where I was directly involved with teams that had I believe, some of the best people there could be for the venture, yet failed to produce the results needed. Looking for parallels between these ventures several prominent and common factors stood out.

These factors included mis-management of competing interests, lack of candor, lack of trust, lack of accountability and consistent poor results. These factors are not just limited to teams who have the right people in the right places. I believe many teams that do not succeed witness some, if not all of these factors. However, a team which does not have the right people in the right place suffers from many other factors as well, these have to do with misaligned value systems, incompatible personality types and other selection and performance related issues. The factors described above are I believe,  primary reasons why high performance teams tend to fail.

During the course of this week I will discuss each of these factors in more detail, and outline some strategies which can be used to tackle each of these issues. In the final analysis, team work boils down to putting your ego aside and being a team member. If such a spirit is not embedded into the work ethic of a team, chances of success are greatly diminshed. I look forward to receving your comments and questions.

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Non-Financial Metric #2: Employee Loyalty

“I believe the real difference between success and failure in a corporation is how well the organization brings out the great energies and talents of its people.” Thomas Watson Jr.

Volumes of books and years of study materials have been developed to enable managers to attract better talent and retain them. From an entrepreneur’s point of view there are several structural differences compared to those faced in larger organizations. First off, much of the time a new start up will have an untested product/service with a small team which may or may not have the relevant experience needed. What they do have is an intense passion for what they want to do, that is probably the only way they can attract quality talent. Even though they are convinced and on board, things do not become easier. Salaries are usually minimal, stress levels are very high and burnout thresholds are reached much earlier. Losing a critical member of a team for a start up can signal the end of the road. Therefore this metric has to be given due importance to ensure that goals are met. Listed below are a couple of steps that have helped me keep the employee loyalty index high at businesses I have been part of :

1. Full Disclosure of Position: When recruiting someone for your start up team, one needs to ensure that you communicate clearly what role they will have to play. We all know that at smaller start ups many different hats need to be worn during the course of the day. The individual needs to be comfortable with this and willing to put in the long hours which will be required. Salaries, equity stakes, confidentiality agreements and all other formalities should be openly discussed and negotiated before hand. If these factors are left to be discussed at a later date, there is bound to be trouble and the situation becomes sticky.

2. Open Communication & Fairness: Take for example,  two founders who want to add a new marketing individual to the team. Whether this individual comes in with a substantial equity stake or on a salary it is important for the founding team to keep communication channels as open as possible. I have noticed that when groups are formed or information withheld, it leads to a drastic decrease in loyalty as the feeling of being ‘part of the team’ is not there. Have regular feedback sessions to understand the sentiments of the team. Trust has got to be earned and the only way this can get done is by communicating and getting to know the individual better.

3. Development Opportunities: Do your best to give everyone the opportunity to showcase their skill sets as well as learn new ones. I have been pleasantly surprised many a time when I found that a technical team member had some pretty extraordinary presenting skills or marketing insights. At a start up there needs to be strong focus on getting your team members to open up and move out of their comfort zones. If they don’t feel like they are growing and getting experience, which they would not have received in large organizations, chances of them defecting increase dramatically.

4. Fair Compensation & Reward: As hard as we attempt to get people to work for as little as possible in lieu of a big pay day, down the line, chances are they are going to react at some point in time. First off, compensation and rewards need to be discussed before adding the individual to the team. They should have a good idea what to expect to make, as well as how they will be compensated with non cash benefits. There will be times when cash flows are thin and payroll expenses may not be met. This is a time for open communication and ways of compensating them differently, greater equity or the ability to work part time needs to be offered.

Employee loyalty is directly linked to customer loyalty and corporate profitability. Whether you are a new start up or an established one, this measure needs to be continuously monitored. Sub indicators such as burnout thresholds are critical to ensure that you know when to apply the brakes. It is undoubtedly a challenging juggling act and becomes harder as the team begins to expand. By monitoring this metric from the beginning a start up has a substantial advantage and can use it to develop a sustainable competitive advantage.

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5 Steps to Better Startup Leadership

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There is a school of thought which believes that leaders are born, not made. Others believe the same applies to entrepreneurs. I have yet to see any conclusive evidence to support these claims. I am a firm believer that, with enough passion, hard work and ambition, anyone can achieve what they set out to do. Wanting to become a great leader is undoubtedly a most challenging task. Volumes have been written about leadership skills and how to develop them. However, inspiration and understanding concepts from books will only get you so far. If you really want to test your abilities and believe that you have what it takes to be a leader, you must stand up and take responsibility. It is all about being action oriented and wanting to bring out the best in the people who work with you. 

Over the course of the week I have written about five areas I believe younger startup leaders need to become more effective in. I have seen the positive impact on a team’s productivity, motivation and drive when a leader has focused on the following segments:

1. Vision Development: As a leader, it is your initial responsibility to create a vision with your team, one which is strongly rooted in SMART goals. The team must feel and think that the vision is achievable, and know what action steps need to be taken to reach it. It is only when a vision statement becomes more than a piece of paper, will we actually see a boost in productivity of the overall team. To read more about the importance of creating a vision please click here.

2.  Leaders Attitude: A leader’s attitude is usually the defining difference between a good team and a great team. With the right attitude, we assist the team break down mental barriers which may be holding them back, take away the fear of making mistakes and generally help them push themselves further. Pay closer attention to attitude, it should result in a team having higher productivity,and being more motivated and driven to reach their goals. To read more about the importance of a leader’s attitude please click here.

3. Culture of Candor: The ability to express one’s thoughts, opinions and concerns, free from discrimination is something I believe needs to be infused into every team. As a leader, there must be a focus on breaking down psychological barriers which may be holding certain team members back. Being candid allows the team to work more effectively, brings more ideas to the tables as well as issues which may be disrupting the team internally, to the forefront. To learn more about the importance of candor please click here.

4. Resource Allocation: During your startup journey, you will need to make several key decisions regarding resource allocation. A startup without proper allocation of resources, ends up in difficult situations, which may result in layoffs, discontinuing product/services, drop in quality, overburdening of some assets and may even require shutting the business down as a whole. As a leader, it is your responsibility to put systems into place to allocate resources optimally through a structured and rigorous processes, while keeping in mind the larger picture. To learn more about the importance of resource allocation please click here.

5. Team Management: This segment involves more than just making sure everyone on the team is happy or motivated. It requires the leader to take responsibility to develop structured processes to handle recruitment, evaluations, firing and conflict management. As a leader we have to be constantly in touch with our team and the challenges they face, to ensure we do whatever it takes to help them reach their potential. To learn more about the importance of team management please click here.

Undoubtedly the startup leader is in for a lot of surprises. The aim of this series was to equip new startup leaders with some broad guidelines of areas they should be focusing on. I strongly believe that when enough hard work is put into the development of the segments outlined above, they will definitely have a positive impact on the team and the business as a whole. It is important that you enjoy your journey both as an entrepreneur and a leader. I wish you the best of luck in your future entrepreneurial ventures.

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Managing the Team

Dilbert.com

We hear it all the time “People are our most important strategic asset”, it is like a mantra of the business world today, repeated by CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies and new startups alike. However, if  you get down to gauge what leaders and managers are actually doing, to develop and nurture these assets, the standard response includes; our focus is on training and development, creating a conducive work environment or, helping the team achieve a work/life balance. After which there is usually a change of subject, and the topic switches to more ‘exciting’ matters, such as, their latest technology innovation. This has been my personal experience with many leaders and managers. I feel they are missing critical components of what it takes to develop and grow a team. 

I believe the reason too much attention is not spent on the function of ‘HR’, is due to the fact that it’s results are intangible in the short term. What is the ROI of $X on training & development in a year? How does a more rigorous performance management system impact productivity? These are difficult questions to answer. However, trends are now becoming clearly apparent that senior management across the world are beginning to understand the importance of management of this asset. In the coming years, I expect to see radical transformations in this field. So, how does all of this impact a leader of a startup organization? 

As a startup leader, one has to play multiple roles. One of the key roles is to focus on being responsible for the management of your team to the best of your abilities. Until you can afford a good HR resource, this is a responsibility that falls in your scope of work. A couple of key areas where a startup leader should spend time during the early stages of the organization are:

1. Hiring: This component encompasses adding new people to the team, evaluating prospective partners and even vendor selection. In the beginning, adding an additional resource to say a team of 4, is a substantial percentage increase in head count. This resource will have a deep impact on the rest of the team and requires careful selection. As a leader, you are responsible for coming up with basic job descriptions, required competencies and the preferred type of personality needed for the role. Learn to trust your gut instincts as they are usually right. Develop a structured process for the hiring and evaluation stage to streamline future requirements when the team is growing at a faster pace.

2. Evaluation: When we think performance reviews, many imagine complicated forms which take forever to complete, and have no real impact on the individual. This is very true of a lot of performance review processes found in many organizations. I like to keep things simple, a couple of questions relating to past performance, areas where development is required, issues brought up by other team members is all that is needed. I think it is important to have metrics in place which can tell your team members how they are doing and where they need to develop. Develop a short evaluation form and conduct them candidly every quarter if possible.

3. Firing: This is a tough one. I am not comfortable with the firing process yet, it is however an important aspect of being a leader. When a team member, whether a partner or an employee, in spite of repeated reminders and warnings regarding performance or behavior, does not change, a difficult decision needs to be made. This process becomes easier if you have a culture of candor present in your team. One needs to communicate the basis of the decision clearly and be firm. One bad team member is all it takes to drastically reduce productivity and team spirit. The sooner these situations are handled the better.

As a leader it is your responsibility to be in touch with your team constantly. This helps to understand where they need assistance, what their concerns are, as well as be a source of inspiration and guidance. If  all we do is keep paying lip service to ‘developing our most strategic asset’, the team will not be able to reach its potential and we would not have fulfilled our duties as a leader. 

Related Posts:

8 Characteristic of ideal business partners

5 Steps to creating winning teams

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Understanding Personality Types

“Only those who respect the personality of others can be of real use to them.” Albert Schweitzer

All of us have come in contact with varying types of difficult people. Sometimes we may have known the person for a fair period of time and at others it could be the newest colleague on your team. Either way, to deal effectively with difficult people we need to understand their personality type. This enables us to choose the optimal way to deal with them in the most effective manner. The tricky part comes when we have to deal with a difficult, unknown individual. I do personal counseling and have come across my share of such individuals. One of the most effective ways of drawing some conclusions fairly early in the conversation is asking open ended questions.

For example, I was giving a candidate feedback on a personality assessment he had taken. From the word go this person was totally against such forms of tests in the workplace. When he came in for the feedback session it was a textbook example of one who was not going to cooperate. His arms were crossed, refused to make eye contact and would answer open ended questions with answers such as “I don’t know”, “this is a useless exercise” etc. To turn this situation effectively, turn the answers such as “why do you think this is a useless exercise?” into questions, and get the other person to open up a little more. There were a lot of discrepancies in this particular candidates personality report, hence it could not be used in this session. However, after a 2 hour session we made progress, after I understood the reason he felt this way about testing.

In the book “Dealing with difficult people” by Rick Brinkman & Rick Kirschner they have identified 10 different behavior patterns of people under pressure:

The Steamroller (or Tank): Aggressive and angry. Victims can feel paralyzed, as though they’ve been flattened.

The Sniper: The Sniper’s forte is sarcasm, rude remarks, and eye rolls. Victims look and feel foolish.

The Know-It-All: Wielding great authority and knowledge, Know-it-all do have lots to offer, are generally competent, and cannot stand to be contradicted or corrected. But they will go out of their way to correct you.

The Grenade: Grenades tend to explode into uncontrolled ranting that has little, if anything, to do with what has actually happened.

The Think They Know It All: A cocksure attitude often fools people into believing their phony “facts.”

The Yes Person: Someone who wants to please others so much that he never says no.

The Maybe Person: Procrastinating, hoping to steer clear of choices that will hurt feelings, he avoids decisions, causing plenty of frustration along the way.

The Blank Wall (or Nothing Person): This person offers only a blank stare, no verbal or nonverbal signals.

The No Person: He spreads gloom, doom, and despair whenever any new ideas arise, or even when old ones are recycled. The No Person saps energy from a group in an amazingly short time.

The Whiner: Whiners feel helpless most of the time and become overwhelmed by the unfairness of it all. They want things to be perfect, but nothing seems to go right. Whiners want to share their misery.

Identify the type of person you are dealing with, after that you can determine the best way to work together with this person. The most important thing is not to get frustrated during the exploratory finding of the personality type. This is not the easiest of processes, but keeping your cool and emotional quotient under control will help you reach the most effective way of dealing with them at the earliest.

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