Three crater size pitfalls to avoid when choosing a top team

When I am asked to speak on business growth, one of the questions that comes up a lot is how best to choose a top team for your growing start-up.

Three crater size pitfalls to avoid when choosing a top team

When I am asked to speak on business growth, one of the questions that comes up a lot is how best to choose a top team for your growing start-up.  

If you have gone through an accelerator or incubator process, you may have been matched with other co-founders giving you have a ready-formed top team.  Expanding that circle either at the same level can then be done further down the line.

But let us assume you have self-started, and there is just you or a couple of you at the top, but you aiming for serious growth or even full-out scale-up.  One key to achieve that growth, you be to remove yourself from the centre of that business, and let the everyday hubris be taken care of by others.  Every little detail can no longer rest on you.  That means the right top team.

The first mistake

Start-up founders, myself included, often fall into the same trap when picking team leaders and management alike.   We choose people from our internal teams who are star players, the best at coding, selling, or forecasting, and we promote them to the top position.

It is a double loose.   Daniel may be a whizz coder, Chloe your best sales person – but that is zero indication that they may be any good at management.  They almost certainly will have had zero management experience, putting all their career energies into becoming superb coders, forecast-busting sales people.

They may also have little or no conception of what is involved in being a manager.   If they knew the realities, they would probably recognize that the skill sets aren’t the same and it is a job they would hate.  The whole idea of choosing managers from within is based on a misconception.  What you want to give them and what they want to receive is recognition, promotion, and more money.  Not a job that is totally unsuited to them.

Should you press ahead, your coding and sales teams performance then slumps.  Instead of regularly and truthfully heaping your stars with praise, you find your new managers struggling.  They are miserable in the new job, missing their teammates, missing the joy and satisfaction in the work they love.   The person they will rightly blame for it all is you and the chances are high that they leave the company.  You are back to square one – less two great members of your team.

Mistake number two

You advertise the job.  You put experience in your sector as an absolute essential.  And sure enough, your desk is quickly host to several CVs detailing lifetimes of experience in your sector.

You interview and are impressed.   These, surely, are people who really know what they are doing in the industry and have held senior positions in much larger companies for the past decade or three.  You invite them to join your start-up and hold your breath until the acceptance arrives.  It all feels quite flattering and grown-up.

By the end of the first couple of weeks, you are still struggling to explain the why or how of the ways you do things.  Your team is already resentful of this outsider with nothing to offer bar a continual flow of how things used to be done where they were before.  The newcomer alternates between looking bemused, telling you that you don’t know what you are doing, and asking for a bigger office and a secretary as they have never had to do their own paperwork.  

By the end of three months, you realize the poor old secretary clearly ran things behind the scenes.  Tensions have escalated, and the culture clash between old school and new has quadrupled.  Pretty soon, there is a resignation letter on your desk.  Your team, meanwhile, is struggling to contain their glee and their “told you so” comments.  They are also inaccurately reassured that they can do the job of management better.

Mistake number three

Hiring senior people is daunting, especially in the early days.  You are contemplating giving bits of your baby away for others to care for.  It feels incredibly risky.  You are also interviewing a new level and breed of people to those you are used to.  When someone walks in the door who feels familiar, who you love talking to, and feel on the same wavelength with, small surprise that they seem a perfect choice.

But that familiarity signals that they are like you, think like you, on the same level as you.  However lovely, that won’t bring anything new to the table.  They are not going to fill the gaps where you are weak, or bring different experiences and knowledge.  They won’t challenge and stretch you and help you develop.  

You are looking for people capable of running and growing a team and, in turn, capable of developing other leaders who will run their sub-teams so that the structure of your business can pyramid outwards with growth.  You are looking for team players, humble enough to learn your ways, excited about your vision, but who bring the experience that you don’t have in growing a company.

I have had smart cars in my time, but I always revert to old golfs.   I don’t need the swank, and I love the reliability, the simplicity, the sturdiness, all of which contrives to make old golfs my comfort zone.   I won’t be winning any Grand Prix in them though.  Hiring senior team members can easily become a search for an old golf rather than an undiscovered McLaren. 

It may take giving away equity to attract quality people to drive your start-up forward, but not doing so will mean you never progress out of the starting blocks.

Jan Cavelle
Jan Cavelle

Share via
Copy link