The Myth of Teams

I love teams. Who doesn’t?

We love seeing a group of people band together for a greater purpose, to achieve a goal they could not manage alone. As a coach there is nothing more rewarding than to help a group to do the hard work – to bond, to brainstorm, to create camaraderie, and develop new skills.

What could go wrong?

To put effective teams in place – in both large and small companies, new and well-established, this is what I have discovered. Having teams because we think we must doesn’t always work. Creating teams before a company (specifically, an entrepreneurial business owner) is ready to support them can be a recipe for disaster; and in fact, can be worse than if they hadn’t been created at all.

Teams work best when as much of the following are in place:

  • A crystal-clear vision or objective. You may not know how we’re going to scale that mountain, but we do know which peak is our target.
  • The team members have clearly defined roles or skills specifically designated for that team. Team members are included for their individual expertise or skills. But they also have training and support on necessary team skills like communication, problem solving and conflict resolution.
  • Teams are allowed to make decisions based on the team objective. The team fully understands the scope and boundaries in their decision making. Similarly, leadership trusts the team to make good decisions and is able to provide timely feedback when they are off track.  
  • The environment supports all opportunities for learning – both in failure and success. Considered equally meaningful, failure and success are used as data to continue the growth of the team and the organization.

Frankly, in many new or entrepreneurial companies the ability for the leader to support any one of these tenets, let alone all of them, is challenging and most often impossible.

And here’s why.

Even with a concrete vision, there are often too many unknowns and the need to pivot can be critical. The course change can be sudden and result in a completely new product, service, or market. This may require new strategies or even a new team. It then becomes difficult to change out your resources and maintain a stable team environment with any success.

Instead, I advocate entrepreneurs put significant effort into that first strategic leadership hire. Getting this relationship correct will create a foundation to grow the company successfully until there are enough elements to build a team-based environment.

I outline this process in my book, Tandem Leadership: How Your #2 Can Make You #1.  The idea of Tandem Leadership is simple. Two wheels attached to a platform with distinct functions and responsibility to move the organization forward more effectively than the leader could do solo. Tandem Leadership will not save a business from the challenges associated with having no products, customers, or cash. But fully implementing Tandem Leadership will keep an entrepreneur moving their company forward and improve their chances for success because they can focus their time and talents on being the leader their organization needs. It will reduce the chance of squandering those fleeting opportunities, leveraging scarce resources, and providing a better journey.

To mark the anniversary of publishing, I am giving away a few copies of the limited-edition hard cover copies of Tandem Leadership on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you’d like one, simply email me and I’ll send you a copy!