Whether you’re a new or an established start-up, an entity of one or a team of many, growing your technical team presents distinct challenges. The strategies you implement, the knowledge of the team, how you grow that team, and your own role within it all, are all critical to whether you succeed or fail, and the challenges you will encounter along the way.
Here are some aspects to consider:
Do we need to grow and how do we need to grow?
Deciding whether your team needs to grow and in which direction is something you need to look at regularly. Are there business opportunities you cannot fulfill? Do you have to keep saying no to the same question or feature?
If the answer to any of these is yes, you must then consider whether saying yes requires a new technology or simply a new branch of your existing product. Does the new path align with your overall goal and future strategies?
Again, depending on your answer, you will either simply grow your existing team to meet the new requirements, or will look to start a second team that can focus on the new technology or product.
If the latter is the case, the ideal starting team will include both a rock star who can drive the new development, and a key player from your existing team to ensure the company’s culture and procedures are implemented from day one.
What will the growing team look like?
A successful team will incorporate people of the same mindset, led by an engineer or a technical leader who will develop and ensure the culture of the team moving forward. Our global economy means there can be a tendency to want to save on costs, to hire offshore contractors working remotely to fulfill roles, because they may be available at a lower price or to keep overhead (ie. office space) low.
While this may make sense for some more junior technical roles, true collaboration, true idea generation and sharing, happens when people are together in the same room. I know there are companies who have succeeded in a fully remote environment – Zapier for one. And, although they have shared their insights and expertise in their book titled The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work, I still believe there is value in face-to-face interaction and collaboration, and that it is easier to grow a start-up in a shared environment.
Where people are working remotely, there are certainly tools such as Skype that can imitate somewhat a real-life exchange. As long as these, and the overall effort, are led by a senior person, even a part-time senior person, who can drive the focus of the team and ensure that the technical decisions being made are right for the company, and that the shortest path is being followed, it may be possible to manage and benefit from remote efforts.
Management is key
Your management skills, and the management skills of anyone you put in a position of leadership, are key to successful growth. In order to build a good team, a team that is focused on a common goal and working toward a common purpose, you must first ensure you have the management skills required.
Communication and transparency is the first critical skill. The ability to know what you want, to communicate that clearly and openly with all of the team members, is important. Equally important is ensuring that the team, from the top down, operates without ego. It is less important where ideas originate or who has which key knowledge, than it is that the knowledge be shared so it can be built upon. The other part of ego of course, is the ability to listen, to take advice and input from others, understanding the focus of the common goal.
Communication is also key in ensuring that no one person holds all, or is the sole holder of any specific technical knowledge. Where knowledge is held too closely, there is risk to the very core of the business’ operations if something happens to that key member, or if there is a falling out. Sharing and documenting technical knowledge ensures the company is stronger and more permanent than any one of its parts.
The old expression ‘hire fast but fire faster’ is another important management skill. In the case of a team member who works against the grain of the team, or who is unable or unwilling to communicate, swiftly and decisively removing that person, or assigning that person to a specific contract role if they are a rock star you cannot do without, ensures the continuity and forward momentum of the team as a whole.
The founder’s role
As a founder considering growing your technical team, it is important to consider your own role in the overall team and your own knowledge. Do you have control over how the technical aspects work? Imagine the worst-case scenario – a server crash or an accident or illness involving one of your key members. How will you manage the interruption? Are you and is the team equipped with the knowledge management needed to stay on track?
If the answer to any of these is no, your next step should be to seek the advice of a mentor or advisor who can guide you in your growth plans, ensure that you have knowledge management solutions in place, and that you have strategies to guide you forward.
Share with us in the comments below some of the challenges you have experienced in growing your team. Is there a growth strategy you have used that may help others in a similar situation? What success have you had in growing your team?