I started to write this blog post about team work. Then I restarted it. I wasn’t always a team player. When I started my career, a young and daring journalist at the age of 15, a journalist was in most cases a solo flyer. I was a journalist for 15 years. Most of the time it was indeed a solo performance. When I ejected from print journalism to the online technology world I started to discover team work.
Investors often tell you that when choosing whether or not to invest in a startup they look at the team harder than they look at the idea. Yea, showing off with a shiny new prototype is impressive, but if the team is a screeching machine, then no thank you. Better luck at your next meeting.
And team work is indeed key to success. In a good startup you’ll have several founders, each assuming responsibility on another domain. While in many cases each member of the team can probably do more than just his or her own job, and at the early stages – that’s what they have to do, it’s critical that every member of the team is the chief of another domain. Has the last word in this domain. Not the only word, the last word.
This distinction is important: early on the team all share the exciting notion of creating something new. They all pitch in. They all have a contribution to the production process from planning to execution. But in each area there’s supposed to be the top decision maker of the arena: one person decides over technology, one person deciding over design, one person over business strategy. Even if all team members have degrees in programming and business, each member must honestly acknowledge which is his or her area of expertise. Where they would be better than any other team member. And that’s your domain.
This mastery is of course accompanied by a lot of ego. Which makes it hard to listen to other people’s opinions or advice. But if you’re truly an expert – then you will embrace the fact that every input can enrich you and benefit the greater good of the venture you’re all producing.
Which takes me back to school. So the high school typical behavior I’ve encountered so far, through my kids mainly – is that in each group there’s one who does all the hard work. Well the easy work too. In fact, why bother, when there’s one in each group who really cares about the grade? Unfortunately I’ve seen this attitude drag into college, first degree studies. There are those who care about the grades, so why bother contributing to the shared project? In further studies I’ve also encountered the complete opposite behavior, with similar non-team-work results: condescending team members competing with each other on their status within a team, all in the name of credit and prestige.
Do education systems give it another thought? Do they know how important is the ability to work within a team? The whole deal: contributing, learning from each other, sharing ideas, feeding the team, respecting, communicating politely and efficiently, putting your ego aside. And enjoying it.
I sincerely believe that if tests where replaced by projects with correct guidance and supervision – we’d be looking at better chances for all those future team members. There’s a limit to how far you can fly solo and without wings.