DIY: Building a Team

Over the last couple weeks the DIY series has reviewed startup basics including “Choosing Your Tax Status,” “Finding a Co-Founder,” and ” Raising Money.” This week we focus on the edupreneur’s challenge of building an effective team.
Recently, folks at the Pearson Foundation asked me to write about ” Five Things I’ve Learned About Startups” and I listed building a great team as a key to success. Whether launching a startup or leading a school district change initiative, building a team is important but difficult work. As I noted, “When you get the talent, trust and focus right, the results are extraordinary.”
Four keys to successful teams include right sizing the team, hiring great people, investing in their development, and doing what it takes to make it work.
1. Right size the team. Build a team that’s right for the task. Product development requires a small tight team of talented individual contributors. Fred Wilson says, “Building product is not about having a large team to manage. It is about having a small team with the right people on it. You need product, design, and software engineering skills on the team. And you need to be focused, committed, and driven.” A product development team may just include a couple contractors as well as the founders.
A school district change effort may benefit from a large team, particularly if changing hearts and minds is a key outcome. Build the right size team for the job.
2. Hire capable team members. Doug Conant, the recently retired CEO of Campbell Soup, said “I look for the four C’s: competence, character, courage, and collaboration.” That’s a pretty good list. Ask candidates for specific examples of successful team experiences. Review artifacts. Check references.
3. Set roles and goals. Set a clear charter for the team and clear goals for each team member. If you’re building a product, set weekly goals. Where you can test weekly hypotheses using customer feedback and adoption rates.
4. Invest in development. Make sure individual team members are prepared to make the desired contribution. Support individual and team learning opportunities. Build reflective time into your meetings to build context, connections and trust. Ask staff members to review a relevant book or article in team meetings. You’ll learn a lot about team members by what they pick and how they respond to others.
5. Make it work. Set short term milestones. Provide frequent feedback. Make a change quickly when it’s clear that there’s not a fit.
A high-functioning team produces value and is a rewarding professional experience. I saw evidence of both in Moorseville North Carolina last month.
Also see:

This blog first appeared on EdWeek.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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