Birds of a feather, as the old adage goes, they all flock together. And with that, it can also be reasoned that any flock, or team, for the purpose of this discussion, no matter if we are discussing a football team or a global media conglomerate, is only as strong as its most valuable members. In the world arena of startups, putting together a strong team can mean the difference between, failure, mediocrity, and overall success. Founders face many quandaries in the beginning, from deciding between building homogeneous teams and heterogenous teams, to choosing the best candidates for every position in the company, starting at the top with cofounders, moving on down to managers and employees. And when it comes to putting together an entrepreneurial force to be reckoned with, should you stay with the flock? Or should you spread your wings and fly in a different direction?
Let’s pretend for a moment that you are going to pursue your dream of starting a construction company which builds student housing apartment communities. For the last 10 years, you have been a project manager at your current company, which does that very thing. Great! Your best friend, Rob, has had success in the past with a startup company and he has an MBA from Harvard Business School. Even better! His cousin, Joseph, has been a contractor who is responsible for building two student housing developments within the last 5 years. Perfect! Together, you will rule the world! Not so fast, my friend. Let’s think this through for a moment, shall we? Building a homogenous team, such as this one, can have it’s perks, but it can also become a become a very uncomfortable and dangerous thorn in your side if you are not careful.
When deciding on who your cofounders will be, it’s best to keep a few things in mind. While choosing cofounders may seem like the “quickest and easiest solution,” and offers the benefits of a “shared common language that facilitates communication,” “higher confidence” you will be able to trust your counterparts, and you may be able to “consider alternative view points without splintering,” there are other viable reasons you might want to forgo this route, such as “overlapping human capital,” which presents as “redundant strengths” and “missing critical skills,” not to mention, since your dynamic already seems like family, that can “create an impasse in the growth of the company” (Wasserman, 2012.) Choosing your founding team wisely may mean forgoing teaming up with friends and family; however, it makes better sense to go with others who are better suited to the roles you need filled to generate the most success, i.e., dollars, in the long run.
Now, let’s say, after comparing the pros and cons, you have decided to carry out your plan of bringing Rob and Joseph on board. Although you have decided their technical skills are essential for starting your company, have you considered whether or not each of these individuals are strong leaders with impeccable management skills? Further, do they have what it takes to help you attract others who will help keep your dream afloat when you need to have a life outside of work? Colin Drummond, Vice President of Sales and Operations at Progressive Business Publications, “requires his team leaders to be coaches, not just managers,” directly impacting how employees perform in a way that “force[s] [them] to think for themselves, diagnose their own problems, and take ownership of solutions” (Herrenkohl, 2013) Remember, your team is only as strong as its talent. Are Rob and Joseph the right fit for such a task? It’s imperative to make the right call.
It is easy to see it is not always easy to choose the right partners or the right employees. A lot of thought and planning goes into making these huge decisions. Your need for a strong team may transcend the boundaries of personal relationships. Sometimes, it is good to fly with the flock. Other times, it is even better to fly the coupe. My point is, whether you decided to build a homogeneous team or a heterogenous team, choose wisely.
Herrenkohl, E. (2013). How to Hire A-players: Finding the Top People for Your Team- Even if You Don’t Have a Recruiting Department. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.
Wasserman, Noam. The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2012. Print.
4 replies on “Why Birds of a Feather Shouldn’t Always Flock Together… In Business”
You are so right “choose wisely”. Do you want a team that all thinks alike, a team that works well together, or a team that literally thinks outside the box? After reading your blog, I have decided that my best course of action is to spread my wings, hire some people from outside my immediate industry who have the ability to think for themselves and can think outside the box. If they all thought alike, we’d not move forward at all. In the long run I believe that the team would work well together. But then I pause and think “so many people are assigned to positions in the federal government and oftentimes I have wondered “why, how, what are their qualifications”? And we can see how dysfunctional the government seems to be, but are they?
You make some very good points here. You ask, “Do you want a team that thinks alike, a team that works well together, or a team that literally thinks outside the box?” I suppose in a perfect world, a team would have all of these attributes, and I feel there may be no right or wrong answer as far as that goes. As far as hiring someone outside of industry, or outside of your circle, I’m sure that will have some advantages. Once upon a time, I owned a business with my ex-husband. We did not look outside of our inner circle and the business did not survive. So, I think you are on to something there. I won’t get into the government discussion because I could write an entire blog on that. Thanks for your response!
As entrepreneurs, I think we sometimes think we need those who work for us to have the same temperament and approach to business that we might have. Sure, we expect them to have different skills and abilities, but we want them to have our drive, dedication, and comfort with uncertainty. But they won’t, regardless of how high our expectations.
In my experience, heterogeneous teams offer the best opportunity for long-term success. Our differences are what make the company go. And it’s best to start considering “people who are not like you” when you’re planning for the very first hire.
David, you are spot on with your assessment of how we should approach this process. You said “we want them to have our drive, dedication, an d comfort.” I really struggle with this. I do want my employees to work in the same manner that I do, but it seems that is never the case. Still, I feel it is necessary to set high expectations, because some people have the mentality that they are going to do the least amount possible to get by. That drives me a little crazy at times. Thanks for your response!