When Bad Things Happen to Good Innovators

February 25, 2010

Sound familiar?

  • Your startup seemed to have essential Angel funding ‘in the bag,’ but for some reason the money never arrives.
  • A strategic alliance took months to establish, and can nearly double your revenue projection, but suddenly your new partner gets bought by a competitor and the deal is off.
  • The new marketing materials are ready just in time for product launch at a major show, but a storm in the Midwest delays the shipment, leaving you empty-handed.

Bad things do happen to good entrepreneurs—all too frequently.  Some manage to recover and others don’t. Is there a way to distinguish the teams that will step up from the teams that give up?

Survival is the first rule of entrepreneurial life, and when dealing with an unexpected calamity, nothing keeps a team in play more effectively than people working really well together.  This may mean ranting together (not at each other) for a few minutes, perhaps also grieving together, and then—without delay—getting down to the business of refocusing and recovering.  Histrionics, finger-pointing, or withdrawing instead of reaching out are not characteristic of good teamwork. They are characteristic of failure.

Good teams know that no one person can examine all the possibilities; that two heads are better than one; three better than two; one for all and all for one!  Spending time and energy on leadership struggles, instead of pulling together, has run more than one ship aground.   The strongest entrepreneurial teams incorporate and encourage different communication, action, and problem solving styles: one person thinking of the far-off future; another handling tasks of immediate urgency, perhaps a third person plotting a strategic alternative, and all ready to fire up and forge ahead.

Some great teams may seem to ‘just happen’, but they can also be built—if you have the ability to predict how people will actually behave when working with other people to benefit their group, overcome a challenge, or achieve a common goal.  The measurable qualities of teamwork are Role, Coherence (on a scale ranging from Diffuse to Coherent to Rigid), and Teaming Characteristics.

Any team members who are outside the acceptable range of Coherence (Diffuse or Rigid) will sap team synergy, exacerbate internal conflict, and limit productivity.  In the midst of a crisis, that’s bad news. The good news is it’s possible to tip the scales in favor of survival.  My favorite example is the entrepreneurial team that got rid of a rigid marketing person and a diffuse sales person, and saw their KPIs take off on a classic hockey-stick  trajectory!

So what do you do when something bad happens?  When you have a Coherent team of players with diverse Roles and great Teaming Characteristics, you never have to ask.  You just do it.

(This post originally appeared in Innovation DAILY, February 18, 2010.)

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