Google interns Billy (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Owen Wilson) strategize during a walk-a-talk through the company’s hallways.
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
By Ajeet Singh
May 24, 2016

The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How do you build a strong team?” is written by Ajeet Singh, cofounder and CEO of Thoughtspot.

Everyone has heard the phrase, “Innovation is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Despite what most founders believe (my product is amazing, my customers need this, no one else can solve this, etc.), most companies fall along the exact same lines: 1% ideas and 99% execution. This means that building out your team—the people who execute—is the most important thing you will ever do to influence the success of your company. And it all starts with figuring out what kind of team you want to hire.

As a founder now building my second company, I’ve come to realize that success is about 30% skills and 70% personality. It doesn’t matter how accomplished you are if you don’t have the right attitude. So the most important thing I look for when building out a strong team is empathy. Empathy will matter more in the long-term success of your team than pure technical talent ever will.

So why exactly is empathy so important when you start a company? Empathy is about understanding others. It’s about engineers understanding the challenges of working in marketing. It’s about sales teams understanding the sacrifice and struggles that go into all-night engineering code springs to meet customer deal requirements. It’s about eager founders recognizing the need for working parents to balance time spent at the office with time spent at home. It’s about finding ways to connect with teammates whose day-to-day work is completely different from yours.

I remember our first week as a company. We showed up at our office space and realized we had no furniture—classic. So of course our next move was a team trip to Ikea. It was a fun sequence of events that could’ve easily been an episode on Silicon Valley. We spent those first days just building furniture together, learning how other people worked, and getting a better understanding of who everyone was. Fostering a sense of understanding and mutual respect is critical as you start to build a company—it’s the difference between a company that acts like a strong team vs. a collection of strong individuals.

 

No matter the type of company you want to build, shared values are what make a team strong. The best teams not only tolerate, but thrive on differences in opinion and experience. If you’re just starting out and you don’t have many people, the need for empathy is at its peak. It’s easy to hide and avoid confrontation at a large company, where waste is normal and accepted. But this type of behavior is disastrous at a startup. Everything is in plain view, and everyone is working closely with one another. This level of transparency will benefit a strong team and kill a weak one.

For example, when I hired our first sales person, I encouraged him not to even think about selling the product for his first couple of months on the job. All I asked was that he spend time getting to know our engineers. I wanted him to get to know his colleagues and their challenges in order to give him a better sense of how a different team in the business worked. Creating that early sales-engineering collaboration fostered empathy on both sides, which has helped us deliver a better customer experience.

As we’ve evolved, our tactics for maintaining empathy have changed, but the challenge is still the same. We have an “on-call” engineer to partner with account executives to ensure the success of each customer and make sure all communication between sales and engineering is aligned. We have weekly all-company meetings, and we invite every employee to our board meetings where we openly discuss the wins and failures across each department. Keeping things open and participatory will ensure that as you grow, employees will understand each other and continue to feel like they are insiders and owners. It’s about shared success and failure.

Starting your own company is an incredibly ambitious undertaking. You’ve got to be in it together. Building a strong team begins with connection and understanding. And real connection and understanding stem from empathy.

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