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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There’s a long tradition of having ‘yes-men’ around to do your bidding.  Had two conversations this week from which I’ve learned that (a) ‘yes-men’ are still alive and well and working in huge, successful (at the moment) companies, and (b) CEOs are realizing that, in the long run, they stifle innovation.

Conversation 1 was saddening, though enlightening.  A clearly, painfully diffuse person reporting to a CEO with a definite tendency to be rigid was praised as ‘the best person I ever hired.’  Well, okay, rigid people like diffuse people – they are the original ‘yes-men.’  But you’d think he’d want to use hard data.  Actually, even if he did, I’d be suspicious.  I bet he does enough work to cover Mr. Yes’s backside.  Well, you can’t help everyone.

Conversation 2 was uplifting and enlightening.  A head of state (not in the US) was speaking to the CEO of a vendor and bemoaning his inability to find the right people for key positions.  He wanted integrity, productivity, and obedience.  I laughed with delight as the CEO related this.  These are the words of a Founder/Vision Mover.  This head of state is totally coherent and wants obedience yes – to his Vision, not his whims!  That’s just the basic respect due him.  But they hire by resume so they are probably attracting diffuse ‘yes-men’ who’ve never produced on their own.  Here’s one that can be helped.

Conclusion: ‘Yes-men’ may flatter your ego, but they will obscure your Vision.  Better a nice loud “no” every so often rather than being blind to the promises of the future!

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