Every year, untold numbers of businesses are launched across the United States, and the unfortunate truth is that most of them will fail. Why is it that some businesses thrive and grow, while most close up shop within a few years?
There are many factors, including access to capital, understanding one’s marketplace, an ability to innovate, and—not to be underestimated—some good old fashioned luck. But there is one factor that nearly all business owners can control that may directly determine long term business success: hiring the right people, and coalescing them into a successful and powerful team.
What Is the Purpose of a Team?
Behind any business success lies a great team. This formula applies to startups as much as it does to international behemoths. A team exists to allow an endeavor to grow, scale, and thrive in a way that would be literally impossible for one person to do.
A successful team starts with hiring the right people—those who value working toward a common goal, are goal-oriented, and respect the hierarchical structure that most businesses require.
Once the right people are in place, the goal is to bring them together into a cohesive unit.
Why Is It Important to Build a Strong Team?
Even the most innovative entrepreneurs cannot scale from an idea to actualized success without the help of a team. There’s simply too much work for one person to do alone. As good as a business idea might be, it cannot be a proper business without a dynamic team working cohesively to execute a shared business plan.
Take, for example, an NBA team. The purpose of an NBA team is much the same as any business endeavor: the achievement of a common goal. Let’s say an NBA team is fortunate enough to have the best point guard in basketball, Stephen Curry. Needless to say, Curry is an immensely talented individual, from his nimble ball-handling to his legendary three-point shooting. But if you made Curry take on another NBA team all by himself, he’d lose miserably. While Curry is a great dribbler and shooter, he’s not particularly tall by NBA standards, and certain skill sets—like rebounding or blocking shots—have been better mastered by other players.
A business is no different. The business team you assemble should contain complementary skill sets such that the full group of people can accomplish tasks that you, as the team leader, could not do on your own. And consider your competition: your rival isn’t going to be one person. It’s going to be a fully realized company with its own corporate structure, its own company culture, and its own unique group of individuals who themselves bring years of experience.
How to Build a Strong Team in 9 Steps
High-performing teams don’t materialize out of the ether. They require careful cultivation from a team leader with a strong sense of team values, goals, and code of ethics. Without this leadership from the top, your employees are simply co-workers. It’s up to you to them an actual team. Here are some steps toward making that happen.
- Establish expectations from day one. The phrase “nature abhors a vacuum” is a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. New employees and new team members tend to arrive as relatively blank slates—open to an array of company cultures—but they will quickly start seeking cues for how to operate as a member of your company. Take advantage of this. Set ground rules, and let your expectations be known from the start—not just in terms of sales goals or a five-year plan, but in terms of the type of team environment you’re looking to establish. Do you want to create a culture of shared responsibility, shared problem-solving, and shared decision making? If yes, then say so. An effective leader will communicate such values from the very start; this lets new team members understand what they’re signing up for.
- Respect your team members as individuals. At work, you want your employees to be part of a team, but you must also have perspective: these are individuals with stories of their own. They got this far in life without your company, and they presumably have rich and varied lives when they leave work each day. It is important to not regard new team members as bodies who will perform tasks. A robust team environment blossoms when individuals are honored and respected for their unique gifts and their ability to contribute toward your common goal.
- Engender connections within the team. While it’s critically important that you value and honor each individual member of the team, it’s also important that the team members themselves exhibit that same respect and care toward one another. Encourage individuals to not regard one another as a body who sits at the desk next to them, but as a business partner who will work toward a shared goal of business development, individual success, and achieving team goals.
- Practice emotional intelligence. Great leaders value the importance of emotional intelligence. In a nutshell, this means that their leadership style includes treating individuals as human beings, not living drones. Great leaders understand that not every person is motivated by the same thing. Some team players thrive on pursuing shared goals. Others seek healthy competition, either with an outside competitor or against another sales team in the same office. By embracing the realities of different work styles and different forms of motivation, an effective leader will treat people’s individual differences as an asset, not an obstacle.
- Motivate with positivity. Great leaders also subscribe to the theory that “you get more flies with honey than vinegar.” In real world terms, this means that it’s more effective to shape behavior with positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement. Resist the urge the criticize team members’ mistakes. Instead, create a positive team environment by citing events and behaviors that you particularly liked and encourage your team to bring more where that came from. Positive reinforcement is a far more productive manner of motivating team performance than shaming those who screwed up.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. As humans, we all love to know where we stand. Are my colleagues happy with the work I’m doing? Do I need to improve on something? Assume that people want to know. If they sense you’re unhappy but aren’t saying anything, that can lead up to built up stress and even resentment, which will result in poor performance. Or if they think they’re doing a great job but you as a boss aren’t satisfied, this can lead to unwelcome shock when you break the news that they’ve been underperforming. So brush up on those communication skills; effective communication can keep working relationships strong for decades, while silence can break things apart very quickly.
- Look for ways to reward good work. People love affirmation of their hard work. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to give financial bonuses, this is a great way to show appreciation. If you’re a startup with little cash on hand, think of other ways to show gratitude and trust. An easy way is to practice the art of delegating. If a team member shows great judgement, allow them to make some key decisions that you may have once reserved for yourself. If they are particularly responsible with money, give them authority to use the company credit card. Find a small way to show that you’re paying close attention to your employees and their efforts are appreciated. It will reflect well on you as a boss and help remind people that they are a valued member of the team.
- Diversify. When it comes to building your business, your team should be as diverse as possible—different backgrounds, experiences, ages, and opinions. Hire with the goal of covering your blind spots: surround yourself with people who will inform the judgment calls you make and the content you put out.
- Find a team you trust. Find a self-starter: someone who can make decisions on your behalf and who’s going to be a good ambassador for you and your business. Groom them to be collaborators by empowering them to make leadership decisions on their own. You’re investing time and resources into this person, so consider their potential for longevity at your company or within your industry.
Want to Become a Better Manager?
Whether you’re starting our own business or a veteran CEO looking to brush up on the basics, understanding the ins and outs of people management, team building, and effective workplace communication can make all the difference between a successful business venture and an unsuccessful one. No one knows this better than Anna Wintour, who has served as Vogue magazine’s editor-in-chief since 1988. In Anna Wintour’s MasterClass on creativity and leadership, the current Artistic Director of Condé Nast provides her distinct and priceless insight into everything from hiring and managing a successful team to how to best serve the right audience.