By Amanda Grupp
As a Masters in Business Administration Candidate at Georgia Tech, I understand the importance of building the right team that can come together and be stronger and more successful than any of the individuals on their own. Each semester we get to form new teams for each of our new classes. When building a startup team, however, the team that you pick stays with you much longer than a few months (if you do it right!) and can help determine the success of your business. As an entrepreneur, it’s crucial to develop a self awareness of your own skills and passions so that you can build a team that complements both your strengths and weaknesses.
According to CB insights, 23% of startups attribute their failure to a lack of having the right team. However, that number is much higher as not having a cohesive team can contribute to other reasons of failure, such as no market need and running out of cash. With the right people and diversity in characteristics, these challenges can be forecasted and prevented.
When building a team, there are several elements that should be considered. Building a startup can be scary, and the team members need to trust one another to have open communication and be aligned to the same vision. While some people mistakenly believe that trust is built by creating a homogeneous team who have a shared way of thinking, this is actually detrimental to a team.
A diverse team is more likely to focus on facts, have greater innovation, and lead to greater revenue. A lack of diversity leads to technology failures such as this soap dispenser that squirts out foam soap when you wave your hand under it, but fails to do that for dark skin. A homogeneous team is less likely to think of implications of their technology for a diverse set of users.
Other considerations for building a team are actual capabilities, such as what a person is able to do and what the business is able to do. This takes into account financial constraints that may arise from working at a startup. In our I-Corps South programs, we see students who have to evaluate if they can balance school, work, and entrepreneurship. It is also important for team members to have interpersonal skills, which can often be overlooked for technical skills only. How team members interact with each other and represent the business are vital to the company’s success.
One of the most important qualities of a successful team, which builds on the aforementioned ones, is complementary skills. Complementary skills are skills that individuals have that are different from somebody else’s skills. When combined, they become useful to achieving a goal and propelling forward a successful startup.
For instance, if the founder is an outgoing extrovert who can inspire people to believe in the company and vision, a complementary role would be a detail oriented person who does not want to be in the spotlight and will keep things running smoothly in the backend. As a qualitative person who loves ethnographic research, I often look for quantitative team members who enjoy capturing data in spreadsheets.
In order to reap the benefits of complementary skills, it is important for team members—and especially the founder—to evaluate their own skills. High self awareness is shown to contribute to a team’s success. This can be done with a free skills test such as the High Five Skills Test. Identify gaps in your skills and roles, and hire a team that fills in those gaps with their own strengths.
As a founder, always start with yourself and build around your skills and values to have a diverse team that complements your skills. Remember that building a team is just the beginning and you must practice empathy and interpersonal skills to keep the team running smoothly. The work is not done when the team is built. Like any relationship, it requires attention to keep it successful. As your business grows, it’s up to the founder to define the company culture and create a space that fosters innovation and retains high quality talent.