A perfect storm is an expression that describes an event, where a rare combination of circumstances aggravate an environment drastically. In the entrepreneur world, we are in such a situation now for new startups, with the confluence of business recovery, the explosion of new digital technologies, and the political turmoil around the world.
It is easier and cheaper to start a company than ever before, but it is tougher than ever to survive. It takes a “well-oiled” multi-disciplined and motivated team to win. I see and hear all too often about teams that are well-funded and smart, but do not work well together, or are very dysfunctional.
The challenge they face is not unlike that described in the classic sailing book “Into the Storm,” by Dennis N. T. Perkins, where a team of amateurs applied some key lessons in teamwork while surviving and winning a treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race. Here are ten tips from the book that I have easily extrapolated to the business startup environment:
- Team unity: Make the team, not an individual, the rock star. Flat management is the business term to describe an environment, where all members of the team feel they are part of the whole. Each member has a key role to play, and each can express their views without jeopardy.
- Prepare and eliminate excuses for failure. Winning teams set out to ensure that every element of the system is known and, is functioning to the best of their combined ability. Make sure no one has an excuse for failure. That means preparing for things that could go wrong, as well as driving things efficiently that go right.
- Focus on the winning scenario. In business, startups will inevitably come across setbacks, and need to pivot. The first step is to define “winning.” Is it more customers, more revenue, more profit, or killing competitors? All of these are important, but everyone needs to prioritize the same way during a crisis.
- Relentless learning: Build a culture of learning and innovation. The very best teams learn the most quickly from experience. They take action, reflect on outcomes, and gain insights that help them continuously improve. Innovation and new ideas are the norm, rather than maintain status quo, or charge straight ahead.
- Calculated risk: Be willing to sail into the storm. Great business teams accept that every startup is “a big risk.” There is no quick path to safety. Winning requires situational awareness. This means always understand the critical success factors, and work to stay aware of current business realities around you.
- Stay connected: Cut through the noise of the wind and the waves. The information blizzard in business is just as noisy as on the stormy ocean. Do not let it be further clouded by political concerns and turf battles. Everyone needs to personalize communication, warn others of big obstacles, and even break protocol to help others when required.
- Step into the breach: Find ways to share the help. In adversity, any given team member can be faced with a burden too heavy for one person to carry. A good team draws on each other’s strengths, and shares the work load. This is called distributive leadership, which lessens the burden on the formal leader.
- Eliminate friction: Step up to the conflict, and deal with the things that slow you down. Fix the problem, not the blame. Confront differences in ability without blame, and add training, coaching, or education, and eliminate excess weight, before the storm. Humor can help alleviate anxiety and mitigate conflict, providing time to solve the crisis.
- Practiced resilience: Master the art of rapid recovery. Startups need people who thrive under pressure, meaning they are resilient and have a high stress hardiness. They enjoy change and look at problems as a challenge, rather than a burden. They measure the success of the recovery time, and strive to make it shorter.
- Tenacious creativity: Never give up – there is always another move. Determination and creativity, under pressure make a team unstoppable – on the ocean or in business. The “proud moments” of successful teams are the times, when they come together in the face of adversity and win.
Some startup founders try to dodge the team-building challenge by single-handedly doing all the work, or establishing a monarchy. Neither of these strategies can succeed. It can be too much for one person to manage everything.
If you are a new entrepreneur, you need to realize that you cannot win without focus or risk-taking. You have to have with an innovative plan. You need a confident and disciplined team to get you through it.