#SeedStage Startup Advice

Invest in Your Team’s Rapid Development & Learning

Thu 02 Jul 2015
By Shan Lian

A team that cannot improve by 10x in a year cannot improve the product by 10x in a year. So how can you keep yourself and your team always learning and improving?

Understand Yourself & Your Team

Just like with Legos, you have to understand what pieces you have to work with given your team and how they can help you accomplish your company’s primary goals. The key is maneuvering those pieces so that they stick together and align. Start off by determining what the foundational building block pieces are for your team.

Here’s one way of organizing them for a young startup:

Hard Skills

  • Product
  • Engineering
  • Customer Acquisition (Sales, Marketing, Business Development)
  • Customer Support
  • Hiring
  • Operations

Soft Skills

  • Fast learning
  • Teamwork
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Strong communication

Where do your team’s core competencies lie? What skillsets are you badly missing? How are the skills distributed within the team? Is leadership strong among the engineers but not on the business team?

Assess what pieces you have and what pieces you need. The pieces you need should be dictated not by what other teams have but by what skillsets are best suited to tackling the core problem you’re trying to solve. People are malleable, especially on an early-stage startup team. Smart people adapt and experimentation is necessary. If you realize you’re missing pieces or most of your pieces are plastic but you want your Lego robot to be metallic, that’s when acquiring new pieces - hiring - becomes important.

Develop Yourself & Your Team

You can’t turn a plastic Lego piece into a metallic one, but luckily your team can always mold and enhance its skillsets.

Say, for example, your lead engineer is a skilled programmer and systems architect, but works alone all the time. What this could mean is less frequent knowledge-sharing and coherence across your engineering team.

So what do you do about that? Introduce work habits like deep-dive meetings and pair programming that compensate for this without necessarily making your lead engineer drastically change his style. After all, you want them to be in their comfort zone.

Stick to The Roadmap

To make this work you have to remain goal-oriented and make a plan: At time X, our team will have accomplished Y. To accomplish Y, we need skills X,Y and Z: we have Y time to acquire them by either developing them in house or hiring people.

Put your team through what I call the Skillset Development Cycle:

Monitor Under Pressure

A great way to find out what your team’s weak points are is by noticing what goes awry in high-pressure situations: How does the team behave? And how do people *not* behave?

Conducting Postmortems, which are analyses of successes and failures after a high-pressure situation or project, is a practice that has helped build some of the best teams out there. Do it and make sure your team understands the importance of a process that helps everyone get better every day. If your team can’t, your product won’t.

Wissam Jarjoui, Software Developer at Shippo

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