Team Launch: It’s All About Setting Expectations

  • As mentioned previously (see posts about people as the key to success and finding the right co-founders), team success can be broken down into the team design, launch, and process.  In this post, we’ll focus on the launch – how you kick things off.  Think back to an issue you had within a team…  Most likely, this issue was a result of a miscommunication or difference in expectations.  Each of you had a specific idea about the way things should be and had difficulty seeing each other’s perspective or reaching a resolution efficiently.

    This isn’t uncommon.  But the root of the issue is almost always the same.  Most disagreements come down to a misalignment in expectations, so it’s important to set these clearly up front: know what is important (and not important!) to everyone, how you’ll communicate, when people can make decisions without checking in, whether you’ll work together in the same room or separately, etc.…  This may seem like overkill, and many teams agree, but then regret down the line when they didn’t have these conversations early on.

    Here are some suggested tips of discussions to have in the first few meetings that may help reduce misalignment friction:

    1. Share your values and motivations: First, share why you’re interested in the project on which you are working – what drives each of you and what aspect of the project appeals to you?  It will be important to make note of differences in people’s motivations and values.  Take for example a team where one person is more excited by and driven by innovating and building something cool, another finds helping people the most appealing, and yet a third seeks independence and money.  This dynamic can work, but it will take understand and respecting these core motivations of one another.  Conflict can occur when one person feels as though their driver isn’t being respected (while another person’s is).
    2. Develop a clear and shared vision: Ensure that the project is more than just a one-off product or app, but is part of a bigger vision and mission that the team can align behind.  This may take some time, but ultimately your company cannot be all things to all people and needs a north star for guidance.  This is usually centered around the problem to be solved for a customer, though can sometimes be about a particular innovation.
    3. Determine roles and responsibilities: How will you decide who does what?  There are two key options here: either roles-based or responsibilities-based work.  In the former, team members are assigned roles such as marketing, product development, and operations, then any work that comes up in one of those areas is assigned to the appropriate person.  In the latter, as different needs arise, the best team member based on skills and capacity steps up.  Each person typically ends up with responsibilities aligning in a particular area they enjoy, though it might not be what that person would have chosen if selecting among titles.  I would not have considered myself the head of Education when founding Launch due to my limited background in teaching, though cannot imagine being more fulfilled by the work in this area.
    4. Set expectations: Ask and answer some of these difficult questions:
        • Success metrics
          • What are the most important metrics and milestones?
          • How will you track progress?  
        • Commitment policy
          • What will you do if someone isn’t able to manage their responsibilities?
          • Can anyone get fired? How? For what reasons?
        • Working style
          • When will you meet?  
          • Will you work together or set goals and then disperse?
          • What are expectations for punctuality, attentiveness, attendance, etc?
        • Communication
          • What does good communication mean to you?
          • How will you communicate between meetings?
          • What communication channels (email, phone calls, texts, in-person) will you use, and when?
        • Decision making
          • How will you make decisions? Will this vary by topic? What happens in a stalemate?
          • How will the team deal with conflict? To whom will you escalate, if needed?

    6.  Establish and agree to your team norms: Here are a few things to consider:
    – When will you meet?  Is there a set time each week?  What days and times work best for everyone and how does the team feel about meeting in the evening or on weekends?
    – Will you work together in a room or have focused meetings then disperse to work?
    – How will you communicate between meetings? Email? Text? GroupMe?
    – How will you track progress?  Will you use a task tracker such as Trello or have some other kind of list to keep track?
    – How will you make decisions?  Will this vary by topic?  What happens in a stalemate?
    – How will the team deal with conflict? What are the first steps to take to ensure understanding, then is there someone to whom you can escalate if needed?
    – Other preferences of working styles?  Mornings? Late nights? Breaks?
    – Importance of punctuality, attentiveness, attendance, etc?

    This process cannot avoid all issues, but the more these discussions are had at the outset, the more likely you are to overcome them than for them to cause the downfall of your company.  So as uncomfortable as some of them might be, they are better to have openly early than when more is at stake.  I can say this from experience, but I also know that even after having been told some of the above, I still disregarded it.  Everyone believes they will be different for some reason or another.  But ultimately, you need to prepare for the worst while planning for the best.  And since team issues are the biggest downfall of startups, make this preparation part of your toolkit.
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