Venture Capitalists know that the team is critical, said Weickert. A large amount of cash and burn happens on account of people problems. VC surveys attribute nearly 65% of failures in their portfolio companies to problems with startup management teams and 61% of problems occur on account of issues within founding members or groups. Differences in perspectives are not the cause of the problems, and may even be beneficial, in a team. However, not being able to work through them points to grave issues that can prove to be fatal for the company. Investors often give up on funding a startup because they are unsure of the interpersonal capability of the founding members. Investors may even love an idea or a product concept but may not embrace it if they feel doubts about the team, said Weickert. Investors often mitigate risks by working with groups they have prior experience with or know others who had success with these teams. Investors also feel higher level of comfort working with teams that have worked together before, or with people with a great deal of experience, in the hope that they will all work together better.
Teaming needs may vary depending on the stage of product development in the company. It is critical that the top tier understands the needs and requirements of functions and groups at various stages, and can convince investors that they have what it takes to transition the company into the next stage. Investors care about risk involved, and entrepreneurs should be able to communicate well that they have the ability and expertise to mitigate the risk. Some teams stuck in one phase, may not understand the risks associated with the next stage and may not be able to communicate their understanding of how the risks can be mitigated, when the company would transition into the next phase, said Weickert. Weickert also discussed team needs based on funding requirements and funding rounds.
Speaking of teaming norms, Weickert said they are hard to define but extremely crucial for a team’s success. He suggested top ten characteristics of high performing teams to be as follows.
- participative leadership where everyone contributes
- effective decision making where decisions get made and stay made
- open and clear communication is important but is often underdone in many places and people work better when they know the context.
- valued for diversity where differences among roles, functionalities and people’s experiences are heard
- mutual trust where there is a feeling of safety
- managing conflict – not squashing conflicts, but atmosphere where it is ok to express conflicts and where they can be managed in a constructive manner
- clear goals where people know what they are working towards
- defined roles and responsibilities where everyone knows what they are to do and how it would impact others
- coordinative relationship where checking in and touching base happens frequently
- positive and enjoyable atmosphere
Companies like Google have learned from their quest to build perfect teams, that psychological safety is one of the most critical attributes, for a team’s success. Some of the best teams have members who speak in roughly the same proportion and members are often skilled in intuiting how others feel, based on their tone of voice, their expressions, and other non-verbal cues. This sounds like a sort of a marriage. Other important attributes are that teams have clear and well defined goals, and a manager creates a culture of high degree of trust.
Companies often hire for interpersonal behavior, rather than aptitude alone, said Weickert. Behavioral interviewing centers around asking candidates to share stories about past challenges and how they approached them and sharing examples of past behavior, as a part of a team. Candidates are also sometimes presented hypothetical questions about scenarios that involve team dynamics, to see how they would respond to challenging situations. Ending his talk, Weickert emphasized that a culture of trust and respect goes a long way in helping the team navigate its way through challenges, and progress towards a success.