Team Building

Actionable techniques for team building

Rob Christian Software Engineer at TrueCar Inc.

April 5th, 2016

Building a team when equity is all that one has to offer, is hard. And to add to that, the available advice and solutions I've found, are just plain lacking. I've engaged about 6 people so far (I've written to many more), as potential teammates, and currently only 2 are still around, but it's hard to say at this point, how much they're onboard. The reasons people have left have been different each time. In a couple cases, it was my call, in other cases it was their call. In each case where it was their call, it was for their personal reasons (not enough time, work too demanding, different priorities in life, need for greater incentive, etc).

I imagine there being two core problems at work. One might be an inability for the person to fully imagine the company vision, and see it with enough clarity that they are continually motivated to chase it. And the other issue would have to be  timing. Even among people who are already inclined towards joining a startup, it's often not timed right for their current place in life. Sometimes the person hasn't gained enough maturity, or maybe they don't have all the concepts in place to see why a startup is worth doing (these were once true for me).

Understanding all of this, how the hell do I get people to make that necessary mental shift, of, "this takes sacrifice, but it's worth it"?

Before you reply, please try to focus on keeping your suggestions actionable. Examples of non-actionable advice might be:
"be energizing"
"live your nature"
This sort of advice simply doesn't mean squat.

Here's an example of something actionable (I just had this idea tonight):
I may be able to motivate each team member to get more onboard by sending very frequent updates (every couple days) showing the latest concept images or prototypes, and including mentions of the other team member and ideas they've provided or things they're working on. Even if this means embellishing upon the truth, there's the potential that each person will be motivated by the perception that "there's already an active team here". I think that perception will be much more compelling to a person than being the first person to join.

This tactic is similar to how startups game crowdfunding by getting initial capital to kick off the campaign and create the impression that the campaign is going to be wildly successful, which in turn increases motivation for people to pledge.

Does anybody else know of some creative hacks? BTW, the typical advice is to pull in coworkers. For sake of brevity, let's skip that topic. Bringing in a coworkers is an obvious solution but isn't always possible. If it was a complete solution for me in my current situation, I wouldn't be writing this post.

BTW, another thing I've considered is hunting for team members outside of LA (my current location). I've previously lived in SF and would be willing to look for talent there, if it meant my odds would go up enough. So secondary question: what are your thoughts on LA vs SF for team building?

Paige Burkes CFO at Health Solutions

April 5th, 2016

I would strongly suggest that you check out Simon Sinek's "Start with Why" (TED talks, book, site).  People can't be extrinsicly motivated for long (as you've found). In order for people to stick around and feel a part of what you're doing, the "why" of what you're doing has to match with their values and their "why" in life.  The "why" is never about the money.  Why are you so vested in this idea? Who are you helping? How are you changing the world?  You have to sell those deeper answers to your team in order for them to feel vested.  If these things don't hit them at their core (creating intrinsic motivation), it's unlikely they'll stick around.

Sending updates about the business is the "what" which doesn't speak to their heart.  Every decision is an emotional decision (as much as we hate to admit it). To get people emotionally vested, your "why" has to match theirs. Once they're vested in the "why," people will do just about anything.

Scott Sereboff Veracity USA, Inc.

April 5th, 2016

What are you building? Is it some thing that is exciting on its face, as a product? If it is not, what is the potential upside for the thing that you are building?

I joined up with my partner to start Veracity because I believed that the product was one that had a huge potential to change the way our industry solved a particular problem. I was motivated, as it were, by:

- equity as a founder
- the fact I would be a part of each and every decision that was made
- the potential for a large future earning (in fairness to you, I was paid a salary from the start)
- the ability to be my own boss

My experience tells me that for every 100 people you try and recruit, maybe 5 will have the "entrepreneurial spirit" that makes them even a potential partner for you. Of that five maybe 1 or 2 will really see your vision and see that it is in their own best interests to join and play a role.

It would be helpful to this discussion to know what, specifically, you are asking these people to do for you. Perhaps that will give us a way to provide more advice.

Eugene Gekhter CEO, Memorable. Founder, SharePay.

April 5th, 2016

What Paige wrote and the 17 minute TED talk she alludes to is making me re-evaluate what I'm doing after 14 years in business, all in the span of under an hour.

Joe Albano, PhD Using the business of entrepreneurialism to turn ideas into products and products into sustainable businesses.

April 5th, 2016

I agree that the unifying core of what you are doing (the "why" concept popularized by Sinek) is the thing that will keep the team together. The challenge is that although co-creating your why is inspirational, teams need motivation to stay on track.

The entrepreneurial journey is more challenging that most people expect or are prepared for. Starting a business with other people is the second most intimate relationship that most people will enter into in their lives. 

So yes, do the exercises and share the joy of finding your why. Then have the frank conversations about what you expect of each other and how you will truly hold each other accountable without blame. What will happen the first time someone misses a deadline because something else (work, family, concert tickets ...) got in the way? What will happen when subjegating building the business to other priorities becomes the norm for one (or more) team member? What is the "personal runway" (in terms of both time and money) for each team member? How long can you support (pour money into) the business before it takes in revenue? supports itself? turns a profit? pays you? (and do you recognize that these are not the same thing?) 

Everyone starts out with a great vision and high hopes ... then reality shows up and take up residence. Have the conversation ahead of time that includes the realities of missed vacations, deferring discretionary spending, working insane hours (on top of your day job if some of you still have one). 

Now is the time to get real ... while you're still friends. It's the best chance you have of remaining friends and having your business succeed. 

Tatiana Gavrilova Business Development/ LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Facilitator

April 5th, 2016

Hi Rob, Seen your post - can suggest you to find out using LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® for your purposes. More about More of mine digest about , on team-building and UX/UC +Service Design I am based in Denmark and would like to help - and you can also find other certified trainers in US around your area, write if you need more info- Hope this helps - the method will work, promise. Good luck with your projects, Med Venlig Hilsen / Best Regards Tatiana Gavrilova LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Trained Facilitator Holsbjergvej 31, 2620 Albertslund + 45 30 86 99 94

Dennis Bernstein Business and Organizational Development

April 5th, 2016

Hi Rob, the crux of the issue from my perspective is in this statement "Understanding all of this, how the hell do I get people to make that necessary mental shift, of, "this takes sacrifice, but it's worth it"?" It is very difficult to change people and who they are and that is why it is critical from the get go that you share with them the vision, the expectations and that you hire attitude not aptitude. I don't believe you are asking about how to create a team, you are asking how to find people that are good fits into our puzzle. When you have the people that can see what you see, understand the sacrifice necessary to make it go then some of the team building exercises that you dismiss will work because they build culture and enhance the commitment that exists. It is sort of like certain football players fit into systems and when they leave they don't perform as well. No matter what it isn't going to work. I believe that is why the Patriots have been so consistent. They make good hires. (if by chance you are not a football fan I apologize). I would agree that your idea of keeping team members in the loop and showing them the progress is an idea that can easily be implemented and may very well may add to their motivation. As you know external motivational techniques are not as strong as the internal motivation that individuals have, reinforcing the idea that you hire attitude/communication skills. I am at your service, Dennis

Carlo M. Ciaramelletti Corporate and Independent Startups, Technology Innovation, New Business Creation, Consultant

April 5th, 2016

Hi Rob,

I tell you my recipe which so far worked pretty well.
I hit 3 main sweet spots: IQ, EI, and personal passions.

I start from the last one, personal passions: I only bring on board people who are emotionally connected with the project. At Saphibeat Technologies we are working on a device to be used in outdoor sports, I only bring on board people who has something to do with it, i.e. they personally practice these activities and may be potential users. So all in my team know the problem we are going to solve and have passion to solve it. If they have passion for the project, they can be wherever in the world.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) leverage: communication, communication, communication. They need to be motivated every day, sharing progresses, brainstorm alternatives, building up a shared vision is going to motivate them more than everything. I made a commitment to myself to share at least one good news every day. This forces me to find one, increasing my own productivity, and motivates others seeing progresses.

IQ: stil everyone needs to look at the ROI of what they are doing. Your team is a team of investors, not of collaborators, and, trust me, time is more valuable than dollars. They invest their time in the project, which is not your project, but yours and theirs together. Therefore it is right to have them sharing fortunes and misfortunes of it. I have a detailed stock award plan that reward every contributor in proportion and quality of their contribution to the project. I do it with a pool of shares that are reserved for this use and with which we compensate time contributions, including the one coming from founders. We have a very transparent method and everyone is treated in the same way. You contribute more, you get more share of it. Such pool was calculated in 20% of the initial founding shares.

In this way, with good progresses, you can probably hold their commitment for about 12-18 months. After that time you have 3 options: you start to pay them in some ratio, you change the team, or the startup has not made enough progresses to be considered alive.

My 2 cents. Best luck with your endeavor.

Carlo M.

Elese MSP ✭Project Specialist✭ Project and Program Management Expert | Developing the People Side of Projects to Get Results

April 5th, 2016

Just to clarify, here is how I understand your question: What are specific ways to engage a team (not investment partners, but a working team) and keep buns on seats when there is only equity on offer? Money isn't the only motivator for people, but making them care about your vision isn't it all of it either.

Part of what keeps people on board is a
1. great match of talent to job description
2. great company culture
3. the right-sized reward system for your people.

I think it's fantastic you are diagnosing what's up in order to fix it, so if I were you, I would:

- Diagnose the selection process more deeply - what's compelling about my "employment offer" and what's not? What are the hidden reasons people are leaving (include your management style in this assessment -- get a few neutral opinions to help you get a perspective you may not see.

- Review the "Ideal Team Member" profile. (Create a couple of personas, if you are familiar with this process). Make sure you "hire" these people only.

- Communicate expectations, yes, but also step up your own performance management style in terms of agreements based on those expectations. Clear communication doesn't create engagement, it creates clarity, so develop yourself in your role as a people developer.

- Expand the search, yes, but location is not the determining factor in candidates -- you have a special profile here, someone who doesn't need money to live and cares about your business as much as you do is a pretty rare thing, once you have the profile, go where these folks hang out. SF? I don't know, it depends on who you are looking for.

- Create a more innovative and attractive reward culture that will meet your team's needs, then hire only when people light up about it.

- Be sure your PITCH to a prospect is accurate and honest -- don't downplay the work it will take, but don't get negative about it either (like you sound here) - Be more selective, not less. Don't hire unless you have a good match and get an HR person to give you some good interview questions to ferret people out earlier.

- Start paying quickly. Get a plan that will get you to revenue and allow you to pay people. Commit to it and make it the core of what you are up to as CEO.

People feel a CEO should be committed to paying them and getting the company to revenue-- so be sure your attitude, actions and words reflect that. Best of luck!
Elese Coit
TrueChange Consultants

Andy Collen Producer, Director,Owner, Happy Trails Animation

April 5th, 2016

Hey Rob... we have a long list of what we call Ambassadors or what you might call Business Coaches working with us on this new project.  Well actually this project (X the Game) had been in the works for some time now.  We have a free version of the game that we creatively call the "Burning Man" build of the game on iTunes.  

We are about to convert this game interface for the corporate world... for just this purpose.  If you are interested you could give me a call.. or just take a look at this article... try the "Burning Man" version and then give me a call.  This will eventually change how HR is perceived and interacts within the corporate structure.


April 8th, 2016

I echo Paige's comments, but even more so what Rob just said.  Trust is the most valuable asset you have, ever, but larticulalry at this stage with a small team.  Don't erode that with embellishments.  Being transparent pays off.  The people that get it will understand and become more connected to your project, and the ones that don't aren't going to pay off for you anyway.  

Here's one actionable, assume you have at least one "it-getter" on the team.  Ask them to help with this problem.  Perhaps they and you together help define the why or enroll the others. Or, maybe they find other like minded peopls to join you.

One more thought: there is an argument that if you have to do team building in a small group of co-founders, you've done something wrong in acquiring those co-founders.