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How To Build A Self-Sufficient Team

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I’ve been running a little experiment with my team at BizeeBee, which I’ve code named Poornima’s Paris Plan, or “PPP”.

By Poornima Vijayashanker (Founder & CEO, BizeeBee)

It’s easy as a founder to just do everything, especially if you’re technical. But just because you can do everything doesn’t mean you should. Doing everything not only leads to burning out, but it can also be very de-motivating for your team, especially if you are doing tasks you had hired them to do! It’s a sign to them that you not only don’t trust them, but you think they’re incapable of functioning without you.

Delegation is hard, but it’s necessary for your own sanity. I’ve been running a little experiment with my team at BizeeBee, which I’ve code named Poornima’s Paris Plan, or “PPP”. The goal of PPP is to have the BizeeBee team function without me for 1-2 weeks a year. Product development continues, and customers remain happy. Basically, the team should be almost completely autonomous, and make have the freedom to make any decisions aside from selling the company, hiring and firing staff.

The first year I went on vacation, the team hadn’t yet congealed, so I divided up projects and told everyone to sit tight while I got some R&R. This worked well given that we didn’t have a product on the market or paying customers.

The second year, we had a product on the market and some paying customers. More was at stake, and I didn’t want progress on the product to slowdown so I made it a priority to put an actual plan in place. I talked to my team a month before I went on vacation, and told them that product development would need to continue while I was gone.

I had laid out the product roadmap and priorities for them to execute on. They in turn figured out how they were going to divvy up the work and get things done. I also made sure that all my day-to-day task were being handled by at least one other person on the team. The end result was that the team functioned pretty well, there were a few communication breakdowns, but overall they were able to execute with out my presence.

The third year, once again I said I was going on vacation, and that I didn’t want to be bothered This year, I wanted to remove myself completely from product development and customer support. Sure I’d provide high level direction, but I wanted people to think for themselves and be comfortable making decisions, what better time than in my absence?

Since we had grown as a company we needed to cover product development, customer support and not have the communication breakdowns. Knowing all these areas and the priorities in each, my team got to work a month in advance.

Two weeks before I went on vacation, I tested them out by making myself less available. When I got back, I was happy to see that the functioned exceedingly well, and continued to ship product without my presence.

The moral of the story is the following:

  • Clearly communicate your needs to your team.
  • Give them a reasonable amount of time to figure out how to make it happen.
  • Evaluate success with a clear goal (i.e. shipping product) and commend everyone on a job well done.
  • Trust them, have them create the plan of action, and let them make some mistakes.
  • Get out of the way! Take your vacation or do whatever it is you need to do.

While I was away I did periodically check in, but it was only to have casual conversations with my team, you know tell them how many baguettes I had eaten I never made ANY decisions or did any REAL work.

If your team is incapable of functioning without you, first think about what it is you’re actively doing to hold them back. Yes, I’m blaming YOU the founder first and foremost. If you’re a micro-manager, then stop. Checking in once a week is enough, unless you’re on-boarding a new employee. If you have given your team the freedom and they are still unable to execute, then you might need to re-evaluate their skills and your hiring criteria.

My goal for next year: to take a longer vacation!

This post was originally posted at Femgineer.

About the guest blogger: Poornima Vijayashanker is Founder & CEO of BizeeBee. Prior to that, she was at Mint where she began as employee #3 in 2006, and stayed through the startup’s acquisition by Intuit for $170M in 2010. Prior to Mint, she was in the Master’s degree program for computer science at Stanford University but dropped out to join Mint. Poornima holds a double degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science from Duke University. Poornima blogs on Femgineer.com and is a competitive yoga. Follow her on Twitter at @poornima.