Building the Right Team and Ensuring Their Success

I’ve had the pleasure of being in management roles ever since a young age. Thinking back, my first role in managing people was in the Boy Scouts. We were a small irreverent troop in a rural beach town in Southern California. When the time came to select a senior troop leader, I found my peers all recommending me. My recollection was everyone quietly whispering my name when they were asked who should be patrol leader; an alternative version might be that everyone took one step backwards leaving me standing alone to take the role. Optimists favor fond memories, so we’ll stick with the former version.

It was more of a ceremonial role; no one saluted me or called me sir. I didn’t lead the troop on hikes, nor decide where we would camp. They didn’t do push-ups upon my command. We were all equals – I was simply responsible for a few additional administration functions. Each person had a clear specialty: one was gifted with a sense of direction, another had an early growth spurt so he took on more physical responsibilities, … my specialty was starting fires – a skill I learned from grandfather as we built fires in our fireplace each night. You could best define our group as a collective, connected yet autonomous … and as a result we made major decisions as a group.

Since then I’ve gone on to manage numerous teams in career. I’ve inherited teams, I’ve restructured teams, and I’ve built them “from scratch”. And through each opportunity, I find myself striving to get back to the organic simplicity we had in the Boy Scouts.

Unfortunately, the perfect team structure doesn’t usually happen organically; it must be manufactured to some extent. It starts with hiring the right person. There is a lot that goes into this decision, but some key things I look for in a team member are:

Energy

You can’t fake energy for any duration. My teams work hard, and play hard – and they need an energetic personality to accomplish this goal. Debbie Downer need not apply.

Smarts

By smart, I mean every definition. Street smart and book smart. Left brain and right brain. Whiteboard flowcharts on the fly, mentally calculate complicated math, and all while geniunely winning over the client and making them your next best friend.

Adaptable

I look for someone who learns quickly, and adapts well to change. They don’t need to be an expert. They need to be capable of being an expert.

Fearless
I tell new hires that they have a six month pass to make every mistake that they can. It’s important to encourage employees to push the limits, and not be afraid of breaking a few (little) things in the process. I’ve worked with teams where the fear of making mistakes stifled ambition and innovation.

A Leader

I’ve learned that you need to empower employees, in stages. At first, I openly micromanage everything that they do. Most businesses where I’ve worked have had extremely complicated products and processes, and new hires benefit from the extra attention. But it isn’t sustainable, and over the course of a few months I slowly take off the training wheels and let them ride on their own. And then I make them responsible for teaching someone else.

A Listener
Most of the time clients will tell you exactly what they want, if you just stop to listen. It’s just as simple as that.

It may sound obvious, but “hiring right” is arguably the single most important thing a manager can do. If you hire the right people, your job as a manager is only that much easier. But, of course, your work isn’t done! Their success, and ultimately yours, largely depends on how you work with them.

Several years ago a friend of mine (who works at Google) mentioned that Google’s managers are measured on how successful their reports are. Success is measured not only by how reports achieve their goals, but also how reports advance within the organization. This concept has had a tremendously positive impact on how I view management and work with my team. My primary goal is to ensure their success. Such an obvious statement whose impact is really determined by the metrics of success (hint: it isn’t just revenue).

Since then I’ve made it a point to meet with my team at least twice a year to discuss their career planning. Where do they want to go within the organization (or beyond), and how do we actually make that a reality? Calculating the return on this is quite simple …. I’ve found that by investing in their future, they invest more in mine.

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