Startups: The Three Stages To Building The Winning Team

As a company grows from a startup (less rules, flat hierarchies) to an enterprise company (bigger teams, international footprint) the challenge for every leader is to build a winning team every step of the way. To be the best company, to succeed, you need to keep your eye on the prize and put the success of the team first. This not only applies to the world of business but also the sporting greats whose ambition, dedication and awareness enables them to step onto the winner’s pedestal at the end of the day. Take this year’s FIFA World Cup where Germany’s team stormed to glory on 13 July – the second time since 1990. Not an accident but years of planning, recruiting, training and building. Something that Germany’s coach Joachim Low described as ‘working meticulously’.

1) Lunch-Time Teams

As the founders work furiously to establish the fledgling team, flexible players are needed to simply get the job done. It can appear and be chaotic with everyone on the field running after the ball at the same time to score a goal, any goal or anything close to it. A generalist approach works just fine as long as there aren’t too many players on the field. Egoistic players with almost zero attention to others excel as they focus on simply getting it done. These rogue players succeed but often in very inefficient, hit-and-miss ways. Everyone gets tired easily as structure and efficiency is yet to be built into what they do. Founders need to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, turning their hand to whatever is needed at the time. It is exhausting and no one can keep running forever.

You could consider them lunch-time, playground players. Having a great time, establishing something, but not providing any real competition, however, they have completed the first crucial step and have created a team, gathering invaluable experience along the way.

2) Stepping Into Semi-Professional

Individual skills come to the forefront. Players figure out that some of them are better in defense or pretty good at the quick side maneuver and slamming in those goals like Germany’s record goal scorer Miroslav Klose. Additional players are needed to compliment the core talents in the founding team. No person can do everything and be the best at everything. It would be ridiculous to expect this. And, as new hires are made, it is essential to understand what skills are needed and hire team players who fit the team. For example, Germany would have got nowhere without their talented goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to stay focused on winning the tournament, not just one game. Do not hire divas and egomaniacs because you are now playing with others. It is now all about the team – each contributing in their roles towards clear goals. Often employees from the first stage get confused because they now need to specialize in specific tasks. This can be challenging for an organization. Keep gaining experience and assessing the needs of your team.

3) Let’s Play Like Pros

Great teams have great coaches. In taking the leap into a professional, competitive environment it is no longer about all of the founders running the field or rolling their sleeves up to do the work themselves. This time is long gone. Instead, the founders or the C-level are there to provide guidance, overview, to support the team and to make each individual team member successful. They often need to step onto the sidelines to maintain the big picture view of the team, playing a vital role in guiding, shaping, strategizing and ultimately making sure the team will win. Therefore companies at this stage need to invest in A-players because these top players can multiply the outcome compared to what they cost. The perspective from the commentary box allows for a better oversight and analysis. Coach Joachim Low has his own statistics and criteria that are important to him, identifying what he wants to see from his players. For example, he looks at running intensity, how many fouls are committed, how many times the ball is won back and how many passes are made in the final third. Coaches need to know what KPIs matter to their team’s success.

It can be tempting to hold onto the exhilarating feeling of physically chasing the ball towards the goal, but it is time to let it go. If you, as the leader, do not let go and you still want to play on the field, you might win some games because of your experience… but the question is: are you winning the tournament? Now founders act like coaches and head trainers in making sure the players have the right skills and resources, and the team is motivated to keep winning, focusing on the Grand Final, even after losses along the way.

Founders will go through this process and they have to, otherwise they will lose big-time, never becoming World Champions. Why did Germany win the World Cup? Because they were the best team  even though others had better players. And the team as a whole will always win.


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