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Building Teams and Organisations

These are some of my personal experiences and learnings from building teams and organisations during my early days. Teams in both, services as well as product environments. Would I take the approaches described here again if I had to build teams once more? Most likely yes, perhaps because, though we say the world around us has been changing fast, people by and large, are still influenced by the same parameters. Parameters which shape their character, behaviour and ability to learn and remain on the path of continuous development. I know this could be highly debatable, but for whatever it is worth, here are my thoughts for you to go through and think about!

There are basically two situations that we can be faced with when putting a team or organisation together. Each one, I believe, calls for a different approach.

When there is a specific project/goal in front

This is typically the situation when we have to put a team together to execute a specific project/program. These engagements are usually time bound and have very clear deliverables and timelines. The focus therefore, is to look at specific capabilities, skill-sets and past experience in the domain or area related to the specific assignment. Sort of like picking the best team from a larger pool of resources given the match, the venue, the opposition and playing conditions in the case of sport. Very typical in the customer facing layers of a services company. Or when it comes down to a brand new product line in a products environment.

In this situation, the pool of resources may also include people from outside your organisation or company. What you get as a result is the following:

  • Diverse work/team culture

  • Big focus is on expertise and ability to deliver to specific objectives (when it comes to each team member)

  • Focus is less on long term

  • Friction within teams and such are dealt with largely when it is a threat to the job on hand

  • Once the goal is achieved, members typically move on to other goals and organisations

Given the situation, we can easily come up with the criteria for selecting team members and then running them through a few quick team building sessions to establish protocols for working together on the 'gig'.

When building an organisation for the future (long term)

This is when we need to work with a larger vision. A vision in which you see an organisation which continues to function and grow even after you are no longer around as part of it. You are there primarily to get it all started. In this situation, you need to look at actually hiring and putting together a core team around which the entire organisation can grow and evolve. A core team which is made up of members with different strengths (nobody can be strong in all aspects of leadership). Members with differences in years of experience. After all, you do not want everyone to peak at the same time and retire at the same time!

What this means is that, this initial team typically may not be performing to its full potential in the beginning. The team takes a little time to adjust and settle down in its current roles. Fully aware that in a year or two, roles and responsibilities could change based on the demands of the evolving organisation. A core team which is flexible and longer term focussed. A team with members who are not so worried about designations or even disparity in each other's compensation. This can easily happen in an organisation which is in its growth phase. Each phase of hiring can result in starting pay of newcomers becoming higher than those who joined earlier at the same position.

What you typically get to see is the following:

  • Uniform culture (at least within the main core team)

  • Big focus is on continuous learning, aptitude to learn and attitude

  • Focus is definitely on the long term (there will be a few outside the periphery of the core who will move on)

  • A natural succession plan emerges after the first 2 or 3 years. If the hiring has been done right, you will hardly need to recruit at senior levels.

  • There is a very healthy mentoring environment which is continuously creating future leaders, making the organisation less dependent on specific individuals.

Building such teams/organisations means, showing patience when searching for and hiring the right talent. Going beyond specific qualifications and schools. Focussing more on the character of the individual and how he/she is likely to further get moulded in the coming years. Members who can contribute to creating a legacy. Members with a strong entrepreneurial mindset.

Goes without saying that if one is building a team for the future, one requires loads of patience, decent amount of support from senior management (if you are not already the entrepreneur doing your own stuff), ability to 'sell' the future to every bright talent you come across (calls for wining trust, strong convincing skills) and being true to your word when it comes to rewarding loyalty and protecting the team's interests. Basically, calls for a lot of hard work! One can get into a lot more detail here, but I'd like close since you've probably got a fair idea about what I'm talking about.

Good luck if you are in a role which involves being part of organisation building. It can be a fun journey and you sure will have many stories to tell in later years!

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