Building the Team of A Players in Your Startup

Building a team image

A startup is only as good as the team behind it. How can you identify the right talent for yours? Build the best startup team by asking the right questions.

One of the first things any founder needs to do is build the best possible team.

Startups typically consists of highly dedicated founders supported by a small, close-knit team of passionate contractors or employees. If you’re in the process of building a great business, then you need the “right people on the bus” as described by Jim Collins in Good to Great.

Being the best at what you do means being surrounded by the best team members possible — but how does a startup founder identify the right team members and attract them to their startup? Hiring, leading, and coaching a team of A players requires a critical eye and a headhunting strategy that ensures you’re surrounded by the best people for your startup.

1. Establish a Team Culture & Hire Team Members that Fit

When you’re considering hiring on a new team member, it’s essential to determine whether your they will fit with your company culture so they help in building the team. Effective startup leaders define the culture that drives their business and ensure that all team members are operating with the same goals, with the same guiding principle.

There are many skilled individuals that are capable of executing the technical aspects of any given role, but passion and teamwork are intrinsic skills — hiring the right person for your company culture is often more important than hiring the right person for a specific role.

    To define your team culture, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Why does your company do what it does?
  2. What are the core values of your company?
  3. What is your vision for the future?

Without a clearly defined company culture, a team will lack cohesion — A players want to know where the company they work with is going, and what they’re working for. A startup leader must integrate these values into the everyday experience of their team members.

Hiring the right person is critical. Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs highlighted the importance of hiring in the biographic documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, stating: “I consider the most important job of someone like myself as recruiting.”

Team culture is essential to the Apple brand differentiation strategy — by hiring the right people and ensuring that they fit with the culture of a company, it’s possible to create a self-improving talent pool. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak emphasises the critical nature of team culture in In The Company of Giants, noting that a positive cultural environment “makes people feel they are surrounded by equally talented people and their work is bigger than they are.”

2. Communication, Honesty, and Transparency

Effective teams operate with a collaborative approach. Establishing open avenues of communication in which team members can share ideas in a transparent manner is critical to the success of every startup and new business.

It’s important to host frequent meetings in which team members can openly discuss successes, failures, future plans, and results without fear or reprisal. A leader seeking to scale a business makes decisions based on the information provided by team members — your team of A players must work in an environment in which transparency is paramount.

Fostering honesty and openness between employees and executive team members can deliver impressive results. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner consistently ranks in GlassDoor’s top ten CEOs by employee choice year after year primarily due to the trust relationship built between LinkedIn team members. LinkedIn runs bi-weekly company wide meetings in which all employees can share suggestions, creating an environment in which every opinion matters.

3. Always Be Hiring

The best, most successful startups don’t hire people based on open roles — they are always building the team by creating roles based on people, even when they’re not hiring. Once you’ve established your company culture, it’s time to scout for talent that fits it. When seeking new talent, write a job spec that appeals to a wide range of prospective hires while clearly defining what your startup is looking for.

The earliest days of a startup are critical. A proactive approach to scouting new team members will provide your startup with the talent it needs — rather than only posting job ads, network at trade shows, universities, and conferences.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stresses the importance of hiring talent when it’s available, not just when it’s needed, in an interview with Silicon Valley Startup Y-Combinator: “We invest in people who we think are just really talented, even if they haven’t done that thing before.”

4. Coach, Don’t Manage

As a leader, the most important thing you can do in building a team is to provide people with is the experience of making meaningful progress at something they are passionate about. A startup founder can’t be a good manager without being a good coach.

In order to coach a team of A players, a startup leader needs to understand the key drivers that motivate each team member and build a tangible connection between the work they complete and the long-term goals of the company. Regular communication regarding progress and development — coaching conversations — are essential when building meaningful interpersonal relationships between team members.

The benefits of coaching aren’t restricted to customer-facing team members — good coaching can take good executive team members and make them great. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg all receive coaching from Silicon Valley’s ‘trillion dollar’ business coach Bill Campbell, demonstrating the importance of coaching to some of the most successful business minds in the world.

5. Clearly Define Your Goals

The ambiguity and uncertainty present in early-stage startup working environment can often cause team members to feel detached from day-to-day business operations. Effective startup teams work together to complete incremental stages toward clearly-defined long term goals, building motivation and team coherency.

Communicating the overall goal of your business helps to motivate your team. By setting and explaining a definitive roadmap to success, an effective leader is able to ensure that all team members share the accomplishments of a growing business.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates attributes the consistent long-term success of the international tech giant to a clearly defined goal setting process — the OKR method, which focuses on objectives and key results. Alphabet CEO and Google co-founder Larry Page highlights the effectiveness of the OKR goal-setting process in Measure What Matters, stating a clear goal setting framework has helped Alphabet reach 10x growth “many times over.”

What Does an A Player Look Like?

    When you’re considering a new hire, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will they help you in building the team you need?
  • What kind of work ethic does your prospective employee demonstrate?
  • What are their values?
  • What kind of skills can they bring to your business?
  • What kind of attitude do they work with?
  • What are their social skills like? Will they collaborate with you and your existing team?
  • What knowledge can they bring to your business?

Hiring new team members doesn’t just mean finding the right person — it’s essential to ensure you’re providing new employees with the right remuneration and benefits. For detailed guidance on hiring new staff, reach out to Fullstack today.

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Stuart Reynolds is the founder of Fullstack Advisory, an award-winning accounting firm for businesses leading the future. He is a 3rd generation accountant who specialises in tech & online companies.

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