Foundational Aspects Behind Building a Cohesive Team in a Fast-Growing Start-Up
What is a story? I’ve heard it said that a story is a fact, wrapped in context, designed to facilitate emotion. Brad Smith, the former CEO of Intuit, shared with me that great stories give us something to learn, something to feel, and something to do. In other words, they speak to the head, the heart, and the hands, inspiring us to action. I look at building a team as a story. Who are we? What are we doing here? These are questions of identity and purpose. Who do we want to be as a company? How does that determine our go-to-market strategy? How do we build our products? How does that shape our mission, vision, and values? The answers to these questions are not a set of information. Rather, they are a journey — they are a story.
I recognized very early in my start-up journey that Building a Team would be the most important part of my company’s story. I want to build a sustainable business that benefits not only this generation but the next. An authentic team — characterized by honesty, humility, perseverance, work ethic, and constant learning, and Built for Growth — can deliver on that vision. Inspired by Adam Grant’s characterization of Bill Campbell in Trillion Dollar Coach, five foundational aspects, as non-negotiable principles, have helped to shape my team, vision, environment, and much more.
First is safety, in the form of support, respect, trust, and community. Trust is what allows people to be vulnerable. Not vulnerable in the sense of invading privacy, but in the sense of the security to innovate and think outside the box without the fear of rejection. Trust doesn’t mean always agreeing. In fact, it makes disagreeing easier because you are doing so in a safe space, with boundaries, knowing how to challenge each other while still supporting one another. To truly innovate takes radical candor-the ability to be brutally honest with one another while still being personally empathetic. Sometimes that will mean hearing what you don’t want to hear and seeing what you don’t want to see to become more than you thought you were capable of being.
Next, to be effective, a team needs clarity. This relates to our beginning questions: Who are we? What are we doing here? What has our team come together to do or to solve? It is important that we clearly define the vision and set clear plans on how we will achieve that vision. Plans and objectives will change and evolve, and you will adapt when necessary. Sometimes there will be ambiguity, but even an imperfect plan is better than no plan at all.
Closely related to clarity is meaning. Although there may be clarity, it still begs the questions, “Why does it matter?”, and “Is the goal worthwhile?”. Is it something the team can get behind? Coming from healthcare, this was easy for our team to define, as healthcare is personal for all of us. Find the meaning in your story and be careful and deliberate about clearly putting it into words and defining where your path is leading. If clarity is your vision, meaning is your mission.
Next is dependability. Considering the coordination of your fellow team members, your mission, and your vision, dependability is at the center of your team, with all working together to enhance and complement each other and allowing the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. You learn very quickly that you cannot guarantee success. You cannot guarantee that you will solve every problem you set out to solve. There will be super high highs and super low lows. It is a journey. And it is the dependability of the team that allows the team to celebrate on the peaks and walk together through the valleys. Team members will come and go, but the relationships will last and give meaning and motivation to the future team.
When all of this comes together, you have a team that is capable of a great impact. Success is not a goal — it is a byproduct. You will produce results, and those results will speak for themselves. There may be times when you take large leaps forward, but for the most part, success is derived by 1% wins — small acts of daily discipline — one step at a time.
This is a great illustration of the power of 1% wins. If you only rely on big chunks, they may always be out of reach. But small acts of daily discipline lead to cumulative success, with each step making an impact. The grand vision is at the top of the ladder but staying focused on the next rung is the only way to get there.
This philosophy is a long-term play to build a profitable and sustainable company and business model — one that benefits the next generation and gives your team a place to feel safe, provide meaning and clarity, work collaboratively, and be part of the sustained impact. When the team succeeds, the client and the product succeed, and ultimately you will be successful TOGETHER.