Teams, Leadership, and New Venture Creation

Posted: October 20, 2012 by Chuck Matthews in Leadership, People, Startup

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

Michael Jordan

One of my favorite anecdotes about team building is attributed to the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi.  The story goes that when Coach Lombardi came to the Green Bay Packers, to put together his team, he built a large brick wall at the end of the field.  One by one, he would line up the players and have each player run full steam at the wall.  The ones who smacked into it and fell backwards, he made defensive lineman.  The ones who ran right through it, he made fullbacks.  The ones who ran up to the brick wall and walked around it, he made quarterbacks!

It is an interesting illustration of the importance of identifying skills needed to assemble a winning team. Every entrepreneur is faced with this same dilemma of building a team that is essential in the process of successfully launching and growing a new venture.  Building brick walls and having your prospective employees charge at it notwithstanding, what are the key elements of putting a winning team on the field for your new and growing business? Let’s take a look at why this is so important, determining the needed team resources, and as Michael Jordan knows so well, how talent, teamwork, and smart plays takes you beyond a win to championship status.

The Importance of Opportunity, Resources, and Team

As the lead entrepreneur of a new venture, you are constantly balancing your roles as innovator, leader, and communicator with a keen focus on your core product/services offerings, customers, and competition.  Of course, all this is unfolding in an uncertain and ambiguous environment with multiple external forces (e.g., legal, political, social, economic, technical, and more) complicating the process.  It is against this backdrop that you must clearly articulate how your product/service offering directly addresses a problem or “pain” point in the marketplace.  The resulting unserved and/or underserved market opportunity necessitates three types of capital: human (team), social (networking), and financial (money).

Determining Team Resources

In general, every entrepreneur faces gaps in his or her own capabilities.  Ask any successful entrepreneur the key to their success and one consistent answer you will hear in some form is, “I surrounded myself with people who are smarter than I am” or “My success is due to this incredible team pulling together.”  It is no accident that really great leaders recognize the extent and critical nature of these gaps.   As a result, they address these key team resources.

Identify the required know-how, skills and expertise.  Keep in mind, these critical elements will change over time.  It is important to make this assessment early and often.  Also, determine which skills, expertise, etc. are needed in-house versus acquired from external sources.  For example, book-keeping skills may be in-house, but accounting and legal expertise may be from members of your external team.

Outline the key tasks and action steps that need to be taken.  Tie this to your timeline and key milestones.  For example, do you need sophisticated order entry/ inventory management systems that require custom programming in the early stages of your product/service offering?

Empower your team for success.  Identify the requisites for success and provide the tools, time, and support for the mission.  For example, what training and/or tools are needed for your team?  How will this change over time?

Determine the financial requirements.  How much can the venture afford to pay?  It is tempting to look at team needs in a vacuum, but the wise entrepreneur links early rewards, performance, and outcomes with the growth of the venture.

Building a Value Proposition

To survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace, you need to build your team toward not just competency (something you do well), or a core competency (something you do well within your own value chain), but distinctive competency (something unique that sets you apart from the competition).  Championship teams have a buy-in and a tie-in to the big idea; are integral to the game/business plan; bring critical know-how, skills, and experience; and, guided by leadership, manage the risk and responsibility that ensures forward progress toward a common goal.

As innovative entrepreneur and team builder Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”  Till next time, all the best for continued entrepreneurial success!

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