Creating brilliant teams

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of presenting to the Y-Combinator London tech startup community on the subject of Creating Brilliant Teams. You can see the video of this and the other presentations over on the HN London Vimeo page, so here’s just a very brief summary of what I said:

  • Space to learn. Startup veterans are always quick to say how much they’ve learned — often from their failures. We need to give our teams space to learn, too. Only then can they really own the knowledge and take it beyond what we intended.
  • Communication to the team. To ensure the team has your vision and can feel part of the long term picture while they deal with the immediate issues, continual communication is key. Gossip adores a vacuum. Also essential here is honesty. Honesty simplifies explanations when things go awry later, and forces us to clarify our own thinking and confront your own prejudices.
  • Let the team present. Knowledge sharing is important, and that’s forced out when this happens. Encouraging the team to present externally also shows them independent validation of their expertise.
  • Proximity to the product. Technology is great, but technology has to be about something. By keeping the team close to the end product and the end users they become much closer to the business, and therefore much more valuable. It also provides many more opportunities for innovation.
  • Job titles. Less about creating brilliant teams, more about maintaining them. It’s important to understand that the demands on people will change, particularly in a small company. So make sure job titles are future-proofed, and you’re not going to have to give someone a lesser job title when things do change. If you’re a three person startup and the most technical person is the only developer, then should they be given the title CTO? It might help secure them, and it fits their current status, but is the greatest developer the Chief Technology Officer of Year 2 or 3?
  • Remind them they’re brilliant. It’s easy for the team to get lost in the details, and the pride they have isn’t built on the same things that your pride is built on. So take time to remind the team that they are brilliant, and show the team why.

There were lots of smart questions, too.

You can also see great presentations from…

Finally, we were entertained by Shed Simove, who talked about his life of pushing boundaries in the name of having a lot of fun (mostly). If you have the opportunity to see Shed talk, then go.