The 5 Most Important Steps to Building a Winning Startup Team

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A startup coach offers her tips on how to build the best team to take your business forward. It’s an exciting challenge but it takes some serious planning.

By Danielle Anderson (Director, Step & Stone)

During a recent Six Steps to Getting Strategic session, a client, James, and I discussed his goals for the year ahead: He wants to attract investment, build a team and propel his business to the next level.

"Great", I said. "So what does your team look like?"

"Hmmm", he muttered pensively. "I want a sales team, a tech team, someone to run finance, HR...."

James rattled off a handful of functions. Yet as I probed deeper, he wasn't able to tell me why those functions mattered, how having those people on board would improve the company's position, or what all of it might cost.

James isn't alone. It's easy to get caught up in the buzzwords of organisational management.

I would hate to see any of you haphazardly build out a team. You'll end up with deep rifts in your business model and lackluster performance from the people around you.

So what is the right way to build a team? Try these five steps.

1. Identify What You Need

Start with a blank piece of paper.

Put your ego to the side and ask yourself what skills you lack. Knowing that you can't do it all forever is an important realisation to make.

Maybe your role is the visionary. Maybe you're best in front of clients. Maybe you want to manage operations and let someone else define strategy.

Although you've dabbled in IT, marketing, and finance, you're no expert. Ultimately for your business to grow, you will need support. Make a list of all the things that you think you need within your business.

2. Learn the Details

Now you have a list of what you think you need but what do these functions actually DO?

When you say you want someone to run the _____ department, what does that mean? What is the person responsible for? What do you expect of her?

If you don't know, you need to have a conversation with someone who does. Who do you know in your network who could tell you more about procurement or marketing?

Here's a great job description written by Corrina Gordon-Barnes, someone who clearly understands the type of person she needs for her business and what that person will (or won't) be expected to do.

3. In-House or Outsource

Once you are much clearer about the types of functions that you require within your business, make an honest assessment of whether or not your team must be employed in-house on a full time basis.

Do you need a permanent member of staff or can you rely on a freelancer? Could you use an external service provider who specialises in finance? Could you bring in a marketing consultant to help you design a strategy but leave you to run it?

Weigh up the pros and cons of both approaches for each function.

4. Interview With Purpose

This section could take up a whole other blog post, so I'll try keep it short and sweet here: You need to find out if the person in front of you is the right person for the job.

Don't go into an interview blindly, talk at them about your business or fail to ask any meaningful questions.

Does this person share the same values as you? What will his contribution to the business be? Will she be willing to contribute both strategically and operationally (like you've been doing for the past year) or will she want to have a team around her?

Make a list of the most important questions that you need a response to, and then write down how the perfect candidate would answer that question.

5. Share a Vision

Your team needs to believe in you and needs to believe in where the business is heading.

Having the right skills is not enough. If your team don't believe in your idea, then when the going gets tough (and it will at times) they won't have any vested interest to put in the hard work required.

Instead work towards the same goal. You will be a much stronger unit than if everyone is going in a different direction. Share your vision with your team and let them contribute their own ideas to it. Create a shared vision that everyone believes in.

Then, check in with your team regularly to ensure that everyone is still on board.

This post previously appeared on LinkedIn.

Learn more about how to build a brilliant team at our How To Conference from September 30 – October 1 in San Francisco.


About the guest blogger: Danielle Anderson, founder of Step & Stone, helps business owners feel less overwhelmed, make confident decisions, and focus on the work that matters so they can stop worrying about how to get their business off the ground and start to see the impact they long for. Danielle writes a regular blog with inspiration, strategies for success, and other musings about the startup journey. You can sign up here to receive these insights and connect with her @stepandstone.