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How to Build Better Management Teams

Aug 31, 2020 | Blog

A lot of Founders assume that top talent makes a great management team. But of course, in our multicultural, heavily digital world, it’s not that simple. I offer you one of the best (or at least the most famous) lessons in the power of a real team, excerpted from Inc. magazine

In 1992, the world came together in Barcelona for the Summer Olympic Games. For basketball fans, there was something special about this year. For the first time ever, the men’s basketball team was not filled with college stars, but instead the best superstars of the NBA.

The roster read like a listing of Hall of Famers: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, David Robinson, Charles Barkley.

It was called the Dream Team and is widely considered the greatest basketball team ever assembled.

“It was like Elvis and the Beatles put together,” coach Chuck Daly once said. “Traveling with the Dream Team was like traveling with 12 rock stars. That’s all I can compare it to.”

As predicted, the Dream Team swept the Olympics, winning on average by 43 points per game. The team won the gold medal with a final 117-85 victory over Croatia. The Dream Team stole the hearts of Olympic fans.

But, what transpired over the next few Olympics was something no one expected. Although the American basketball team won gold in 1996 and 2000, in the 2004 Olympics, the roster of superstars–which included upcoming stars Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James–lost more games than ever before. Though the team still managed to win a bronze medal, it was nicknamed the Nightmare Team.

What happened? The fall of the Dream Team can be explained simply: Its members played like stars, not like a team, resting on their successes, not the task at hand. Some would say the Dream Team began to take its dominance for granted.

So, in 2008, the team widely publicized a return to fundamental team values; putting the team before any individual player, no matter how good. Moreover, team members acted like Olympians, not superstars, staying at the Olympic Village and attending other events to cheer on their fellow Americans. They were better teammates, but also truly inspired other American athletes to be at their best.

As an investor, when I look at businesses with the next best product or service there’s a certain level of confidence that is initially refreshing. At the same time, I look more in-depth than the product or service—I look at the team and the roles they play within the company because that is how a business grows, or in everyone’s 2020 favorite word, scales.

For example, you can have a great product, like a smartphone. The process of vision, research, and development to build the phone, the ability to establish a supply chain, the talent to build marketing around the phone, and the development of a stellar sales team to reach out to consumers has everything to do with people. Of course it does. It is crucial to have the right people on your team, and investors pay attention to this.

It is no surprise, then, that investors look at the management of teams as much, if not more than, the product or service a company provides.

The Team is Key. Most CEOs Know This.

Having a great product means you have a great management team, which further implies that there needs to be talent in key roles to grow the business.

The heart of any product or service is based on the team and how they are managed. Of course, to find the right team starts with the founder, who is often the CEO. Still, there is usually a dilemma when it comes to money-strapped startups and filling the critical roles of CMO, CFO, or COO: the first response is often, “we don’t have the money to pay for the talent we need.” or, “I know a guy.”

Although money is a tangible concern, there are usually other ways to solve this dilemma. In many cases, it is not just about the money; it is also about ownership and opportunity. Many leaders are afraid that they will lose control of the direction of the business when they hire talent.

Ownership and Letting Go

Removing money from the equation for a moment, one way hiring top talent seems like a Herculean task is based on fear. Many founders are afraid that they will lose control of where they think the business should be going. What if they hire the wrong person for the role? What if they have a different vision for the company? What if we hire your “guy” and they don’t make it? What if I hire someone who is better than me?

These are valid concerns, but they are also great teachers. If someone is not working out in the position, then you learn from it and hire smarter. If someone starts moving the company in another direction, is it really a bad idea, or is it just that fear of not being in complete control or not seeing the opportunity before they did? If leadership has one clear direction, being transparent about that direction before hiring someone could help alleviate this concern.

Another fear is based on what can happen if the talent is smarter than they are. Though many founders or CEOs may not admit this openly, it is something that rests with many people in leadership positions. Of course, in any successful company, great founders surround themselves with smart people, people who push them, people who have insatiable curiosity and can help propel the company, and those people will be smarter in some areas—that’s the point. No one person can do everything, nor do they have the time to do so.

To build a better management team, leaders have to overcome the psychology holding them back. It is not about the money all the time—sometimes it’s the fear of giving up control. Choosing talent in key areas is a must, and ego can be a real problem in team building.

Finding Talent

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After leaders overcome their fears, how can they find the talent and bring them in, even when money is tight? There are a few ways to do this effectively:

  1. There are many ways to find talent. You can look for top talent through social sites like LinkedIn or tap into your network to see if there are people who would fit the role you are trying to fill. Better yet, tap into someone’s network that is different than yours. Drive diversity of thought from the beginning.

  2. Recruiters are an option. If you have the right recruiter and they are good at what they do, they will work hard to find the right fit and save you priceless amounts of time.

  3. Look for talent who is interested in your company’s story and can get behind the mission. Many highly talented prospects will take lesser pay to work for a great cause, with great leaders, or in a nurturing team environment.

  4. Offer other perks like flexible hours, remote work, educational opportunities, extra vacation time, no questions asked flex days, or having a reputation for being a joyful place to work. Especially as Gen-Z (ages 15-21) begin to flood into the workforce and coalesce with millennials (ages 22-39), compensation is less about cash and more about workplace experiences and lifestyle support.

  5. Offer equity. The potential of a sizeable future payout can be enticing, and if you’re on a tight budget but need top talent, then leveraging your equity can be a great option.

  6. Bring in dynamic advisors and/or consultants to embed on your team temporarily to either test their skills personally, or test-out how the company performs with the added brain power. Even better, identify the talent you want and ask them to advise or “try out” the position for 90 days — marked by authentic bilateral syncs along the way.

  7. While unpopular to put in writing, the truth and data around diversity is clear but many company leaders fall into the “looks like me” trap. I recommend you get comfortable with age and race diversity now.

    • Millennials are the most racially and ethnically diverse adult generation in the nation’s history. Yet the next generation – Generation Z – is even more diverse. (PEW Research 2019)

  8. Be patient building your team—it doesn’t mean you have to take two years to find the right talent; instead, it means to be mindful and be patient. Be open to new ideas and experiences. Often, people from different categories and life experience bring a lot of richness and innovation to the team. Get to know the people you put into critical roles and give them time to grow into it. In time, great talent adapts and helps a company thrive, but everything takes a little time.

Share the Load, Reap the Benefits

If you are a founder or CEO, you have to spend a lot of your time to build relationships with your team—at least 60% of your time. Yes. That much.

It does not mean you should micromanage them or follow them along every step of their day, but instead, ask team members how you can help them make more significant strides and break down barriers to accomplish goals. Let them know they are valued, and their expertise matters, because it most definitely does.

Building better management teams is a science and an art, but it is also based on psychology. If you want to grow your business exponentially, you will achieve considerable heights when you overcome your fears. A few key hires can be a game-changer. It can exponentially grow a business but it might be an uncomfortable awakening for you.

Great companies start with great people. Just because you have a great product, doesn’t mean your company will flourish—it is the team you create and the nurturing that gets your business where it needs to go. A high-performance, personable, dedicated, culture-forward team unleashes hidden value in products and performance.