Isn’t it hard enough that you came up with a big idea, you’ve spent most of your personal savings trying to implement it, you’ve been managing social media accounts, writing content for a website, trying to recruit a solid team to work with you, in addition to finding clients, managing your invoicing system and being your own brand ambassador? This entrepreneur life is not for the faint-hearted, but what you did not bargain for was having to deal with a team of people who are just not as invested as you are. When you brought them on board, the premise was clear – they are there to unlock your capacity. There’s no point having a team when you still end up doing all the work, right?
Welcome to the real behind-the-scenes life of a founder. It is a classic experience for founders of early stage ventures to realize that in spite of the existence of a team, whether they are paid of volunteering, the founder still does an outsized share of the work while bearing all the weight of fundraising or business development and sourcing new clients. At times, it may feel as though the founder needs to pay the price for coming up with an idea. Many founders report feeling helpless and frustrated with their teams, and many say that at times they wished they could just go all alone.
Here are some of the commonest complaints that you might hear from founders of new ventures:
1. I feel like I’m still doing all the work
This is a classic comment from founders – you have to explain the vision to your team multiple times and then coach them to do things exactly the way you want them to be done, and then when the output does not meet your expectation, you have to do it all over again by yourself. In the process, you’ve lost valuable time, and perhaps patience as well.
2. I’m not sure if I can trust my team
You are likely to make this comment when you realize that the motivation that some people have on your team might not be anywhere close to what it should be. Perhaps, you’re wondering if they joined the team simply to get some additional bullet points on their resume, or to pay some urgent bills. Either way, it is clear that this person is not in it for the right reasons.
3. I can tell when my team have not even bothered to prepare for a meeting
You know those meetings where everyone is supposed to have read a recent article published by the Harvard Business Review, and then prepared talking points to discuss a section, as well as having three concrete ideas for launching the new product and a shortlist of five potential clients? That meeting? Yeah, it’s clear that they did not invest any minutes in advance, and now you’re wondering why you even bother with them.
4. I can’t find the time to focus on higher priorities
This one almost feels like a combination of many of the other factors, because why are you out here creating a content calendar for social media when you should be preparing the concept note for the proposal that has been sitting on your to-do list for weeks? The more of the lower-order things you do, the less of the higher other things get done, and this just leads to frustration.
5. Am I better off without a team?
At the end of the day, you have to ask this question – do I really need a team? I mean, apart from the section on the business proposal where you have to list your team members, are you better off just doing this all alone? Yeah, it will be great to have a “Team” section on your website, but is it worth all the stress? That’s a very legitimate question, and some have taken this route, but does it lead to a better outcome?
First of all, breathe. You need to acknowledge that creating a new venture is not an easy journey, and it will very likely not yield the best results overnight. Those top organizations with the best corporate culture and the most committed team members did not get there in the snap of a finger – some of those results that you admire have come on the back of similar frustrations like the one that you feel right now. Creating corporate culture requires a few things from a founder, some of which you already have, and some of which you need to develop. So, what should you do?
1. Evaluate the team you have right now
Take stock of the people around you. Someone once said that if you cannot change the people around you, then change the people around you – this means that if you have come to the conclusion that you cannot influence the people around you to do better, then you need to get different people around you. But first, take some time to have conversations with them and see if you can figure out exactly what is going on. You need to know if this situation can be salvaged or not.
2. Develop the right guiding principles
Many organizations write their values at the earliest stages of their founding, and they might look like this: “Tenacity, Courage, Commitment”. Those words are so generic that they end up meaning very little to people over time. How about you upgrade your values for “guiding principles” that everyone on your team begins to imbibe over time? These principles can be drawn from your personal set of ethics, or just your way of doing things. Start with something like “We are unfailingly committed to environmental conservatism” – so the next time you catch someone on your team making endless photocopies of that document in advance of a meeting, you can simply remind them that “that is not how we do things around here”.
3. Don’t be afraid to let people go (even if they are friends or family)
When you come to the conclusion that it is simply not working with this person, be brave and do the right thing – let them go, even if they are friends or family. An ineffective team member will cost you dearly in the short run and in the long run, and that is not even about money. The rest of your team can easily tell who is not pulling their weight, and that lack of motivation will gradually seep down the line. Just let them go and continue with the team that you have.
4. Be a coach
When you have pruned some of the deadweight from your team, you now have to take on perhaps the hardest part of your job – coaching your team. It is at this point that you have to take on a learning journey of your own – you need to analyze your personal work preferences and see if you can help others on your team to understand you better while you try to do the same with them. And then when there are specific preferences for how things need to be done, you need to help your team understand where you are coming from. The most effective leaders are great coaches; it’s time for you to up your game.
5. Be persistent
And when it is all said and done, you cannot afford to give up. You need to continue to coach your team, emphasize your guiding principles, model the level of productivity that you desire in the team, and lead from the front. You know what they say about children only paying attention to what you do, not what you say? It is exactly the same with a team. They are watching you and taking notes – they see how you interact with clients; they see how you spend from the corporate purse; they see what time you leave for home at the end of the day (if you are not the last in the office). All said, what you do is far more important than what you say. Be persistent in modelling the character that you expect from your team.
Now, do you have some homework to do? Go on, and make your venture successful.
By the way, do you have a clear theory of change for your venture? That might be the source of one of the frustrations that your team is experiencing. Talk to us, and let us help you develop a compelling Theory of Change. Get in touch now.