Staffing for Growth

You, and perhaps a couple close associates have launched your startup company. It has taken more of your time and money than you had anticipated, but things are at last starting to look like the company is getting some traction. Everyone has worn multiple hats of responsibility to do whatever was necessary to move forward. Now it appears it is time to begin hiring and build a team for expansion.

Success in today’s business environment requires building a strong management team. A team is more than a collection of individuals. It is a cohesive unit applying individual skills to a common goal. Hiring employees to execute on the leaders detailed orders is self-limiting. In today’s fast paced highly competitive business environment relying on the directions of a single person is a recipe for failure. We can evaluate individual’s skills based on past performance, but it is a completely different matter to identify the factors that create a great team of individuals. To hire and build a great management team requires looking beyond the individual performances to assess team skills as well. So what characteristics make for a great team player?

I had the good fortune to play on a Southern California high school championship basketball team. We won four games in the final tournament against the best teams to claim the championship. I can honestly say we never had the best player on the court. As individuals we were reasonably good, but there was a magic in the team. The magic was operating beyond the skills of the individuals and performing as a well-practiced team. This team experience and others have led me to think about what ingredients produces the magic.

While I am sure there are numerous paths to building great teams, I have come to embrace the idea of “Balanced Advocacy”. An advocate is someone that pleads the cause of another. The advocate defends their cause and promotes the interests of a position. They become the voice of a need that requires attention. On our basketball team each player had talents in specific areas and when we operated as a group that respected and used all those talents, we proved to be the best on the court. I believe the same is true in business.

As a CEO building teams, I needed team members that were smarter and more experienced in specific business disciplines than myself. I needed team members that could espouse the benefits of quality control, or good financial discipline, or cutting-edge technology, or marketing, as examples. I needed team members that were able to present their thoughts in a clear comprehensive manner. Beyond the advocacy of a particular operational need, I needed people that were willing to listen to all the team advocates and to understand appreciate their positions and arguments. I needed the whole team to understand how all the factors that effect the success of the business must be weighted and carefully considered to arrive at the best possible product. If the CEO chooses to consider only their own judgement, the company must be prepared to lose the competition to a company with magic on their team.

With the management team in place, what is the CEO’s role?  If I have gathered a team with expertise and experience in the operational areas, how does the company proceed with this expanded talent to realize the growth it is building toward? As the senior manager, and often founder, your role has always been to set the direction and goals of the company. That role continues. Supporting the team by backing their decisions, by maintaining the environment of open expression and by making strategic changes to the team will always require the attention of the CEO. Plus, there will exist the challenge of assuring that the management team is as “Balanced” as possible. Individual personalities will cause some to advocate more forcibly than others. Properly supported and functioning, the team will be capable of reaching consensus recommendations to the CEO. When that happens, as often it will, the magic will propel the team to more success. As the company grows it may be that the CEO properly relinquishes the role of team captain and takes on the more important role of team coach. The coach’s challenge is to make a championship team led by the “Balanced Advocacy” team of individuals.

Author of the article: Stephen Brucker