The best product doesn’t always win – does the best team always win?

We know the best product doesn’t always win – think Sony BetamaxApple Newton and TiVo DVRs. And it’s probably true for team as well – although us Canadians might argue that the best did win when we refer to Canada’s gold medal hockey teams at the Vancouver Olympics!

As part of the CIBC Presents Entrepreneurship 101 series I spoke Wednesday evening about “Human Capital: the importance of high performance teams to start-up success.”

Who knows when the power of team was first recognized? Maybe it started with Precambrian man adopting team-based hunting techniques? Adam Smith certainly recognized that economies benefited from teamwork related to his “Division of Labour” hypothesis.

Well, my talk focused on building technology-based companies and how team performance and dynamics play such an important role contributing to a successful outcome. Just how do you align multi-functional teams? Especially when you have PhDs of physics on your research team who need to gel with “coin-operated” sales people as you commercialize – taking product from lab to the customer! It’s not easy – especially as a young company’s team grows. How do you avoid the “silo” effect? And how do you synchronize and retain a positive work culture when you are operating with four offices on three continents across multiple time zones?

From the lens of founder/entrepreneur/CEO, I summarized with four key elements related to high performance teams:

1. COMMUNICATE. Set a tone that is open, based on mutual respect, interactive and with diversity of opinion.

2. ALIGN on three or four top initiatives and track them. Course direction will likely be required – get all the customer and market touch you can. And structure rewards and incentives to reinforce the behaviour, culture and targets you are looking for.

3. PLAN as a group. Both short- and long-term (“long-term” to a start-up is likely less than 36 months) and definitely have a “Plan B”. A high “Adversity Quotient” team will handle the inevitable speed bumps.

4. DELIVER. Teams that are accountable – that are focused on delivery of the key initiatives – will almost intrinsically be high performance. Maybe that was what was driving Sidney Crosby and the team in the gold medal game!

Downloads and resources

CIBC presents Entrepreneurship 101 2009/10 – Week 26 -Human Capital: Building high performance teams for your start-up’s success from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.