Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared on the personal website of Brad Harrison.
Of the first ten years of my grown up life, I spent four at West Point and the remainder as an Airborne Ranger in the Army. The key principles that we focused on were leadership, teamwork, and integrity. These are also the core principles that the team at Scout Ventures believes is critical to strong management teams.
This week I’ve been working with one of our teams and they are struggling with teamwork. Each founder is bright with unique and relevant experience, and they all complement each other well. Unfortunately, they struggle with creating their own support structure because their teamwork skills are weak. I know this because when they have heated discussions about the direction of their product and business, they often can’t reach a solution without coming to me to help broker the negotiation.
In large companies, we see a strong focus on teamwork within certain verticals --- sales, marketing, product, technology, etc. --- but these teams often don’t see eye to eye when they compete for required resources like budget, manpower, etc.
In early stage startups, resources are much more limited and it’s often teamwork and shared resources that enable these businesses to get things done and succeed.
But when there are more than two founders, it is inevitable that someone is not comfortable in his or her role. This happens when multiple founders want or think they can be CEO, or when they simply can’t agree on titles and responsibility. This can become even worse when the company is raising money and there’s a prospect of hiring new people. In all cases, teamwork often suffers.
How can this be resolved?
First and foremost, believe in leadership. This means that one person must be responsible for providing direction to the team. This is the CEO. And this is a critical piece for creating a strong team.
Second, the CEO needs to set an environment based on mutual respect. This is so important for getting each and every member of the team engaged with the understanding that their opinion matters.
Third, the CEO needs to engage his or her team members and have them work to solve problems. This often requires asking people to provide their perspectives and having a constructive conversation exploring opposite points of view.
Fourth, regardless of the outcome of a specific debate, the team needs to all embrace the decision and move forward. Moving forward means each team member supports their peers even if they didn’t agree with the decision.
And last, the CEO needs to bring the team together to bond and move forward. At Scout Ventures, we like to have a good meal or take everyone out for a night; either way our goal by the end of the night is to hear the founders saying, “I love you man,” “I understand the decision,” “I got your back,” and “We’re going to be a billion-dollar company.”