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A Top Team Is Key to Growth

Jana Matthews, Founder and CEO, Boulder Quantum Ventures

You can't do it all yourself. You may want to. You may even feel like you have to. But unless you have a strong team at the top, you and your company will struggle under the weight of growth. Knowing how to select, manage and lead a Top Team is one of the secrets to growth.

A great Top Team extends the values, vision, mission and plan throughout the company, aligns the company and accelerates its growth. A dysfunctional team can tear a company apart and send it down the tubes.

As your company grows, you need to formally establish your Top Team. This team should consist of people who can manage three significant roles: functional, executive, and leadership. Team members must be able to combine managing operations, serving on your executive team and helping you fulfill some of your leadership roles and responsibilities.

The Roles and Responsibilities of Your Top Team

When you assemble your Top Team, each member must be capable of fulfilling all of the following roles and responsibilities:

As the leader of their functional area, your team members must:

  • Manage their functional area(s) and the resources allocated to them.
  • Attract and retain great people.
  • Communicate effectively so that everyone in their unit understands the company's vision, mission, values, and plan; how their job relates to the plan, and the results expected of them.

As a member of the Executive Team, your team members must:

  • Manage the implementation of the company's plan.
  • Be a role model for innovation, teamwork, and problem-solving.
  • Help other team members succeed.

As a member of your Leadership Team, team members must:

  • Help you develop the plan for growth.
  • Protect and build a company culture that supports growth.
  • Optimize resources to achieve company goals.

The Evolution of the Top Team

In order for your company to grow, the leader must focus on strategy and planning. An effective Top Team must be able to run the company day to day in order for you to be able to move out of operations and focus on strategy. However, you should also expect more than operational management from them. Your Top Team members must operate as a team and as leaders of growth.

Your Top Team can help you create a new and better "big-picture" vision as the company grows. They'll bring a new perspectives and specialized knowledge you don't have. You'll see new sides of the picture you hadn't seen before. With the right team, the new vision and strategy for growth that you collectively develop will be far better than anything you could have developed on your own.

Most of your team members will be familiar and comfortable only with the functional responsibilities. Coach them and help them begin to think and work as a team. Encourage and support them as they grow and develop into their expanded roles and responsibilities.

Make it clear that you hold the team responsible for implementing the company's plan, measuring and evaluating results, and helping each other succeed. Tell them that you expect them to help you plan the future of the company. Hold them accountable for their performance in all three areas detailed above.

Be explicit and define your expectations of each Top Team member. Be clear about which roles and tasks you are retaining and which ones you are delegating to them individually and as a group. Provide direction to them. Agree on desired outcomes, and hold them accountable for those outcomes. Delegate more responsibilities to them, but don't abandon them as they take on new roles. Remind them and everyone in the company that you expect your Top Team to focus on all of the three major areas, not to specialize on one.

Every new person you add to the Executive Team will impact the current roles and responsibilities of others, so don't be surprised that you'll need to re-define the roles and responsibilities of each Top Team member. As your personal responsibilities change, you're likely to need a Chief Operating Officer. When you appoint someone to this role, re-examine and re-organize the roles of all the member of the executive team - including your own. Communicate any changes quickly, clearly and leave no ambiguity. Be sure to acknowledge the contributions of those who carried those roles and responsibilities before the reorganization.

The Challenges of Changing Roles

Developing a Top Team won't be easy. There are many challenges that you will need to address. As your team's responsibilities expand to all three levels, it will be a shock to them. They must realize that they must be able to operate on these three levels.

When you first begin to involve your team in leadership roles, you may feel guilty about asking them to take on additional responsibilities, especially if you hired them to perform a functional role.

Sit down with them individually and as a team. Discuss the company's growth and remind them that growth necessitates changes. Describe their new roles and responsibilities with regards to your changing roles and responsibilities. Remind them this is a natural evolution: the company is headed into a new stage of growth.

Some team members may tell you that they can't take on these new roles, that they are too busy and have too many crises to handle in their own areas. Listen to their concerns, but make it clear: you do expect them to manage their functional area, function as a member of the Executive Team and a member of your Leadership Team, and that they must learn to do it all.

Building a Tip-Top Top Team

To build a great Top Team, be wise about the people you hire and promote. Scrutinize your high-level candidates as if you were hiring your own replacement - because you are. Look for people you trust. Hire people who can handle new duties that you delegate to them, and who will follow-through. Insist on people who use good judgment, treat others with respect, and meet or exceed performance expectations.

Just as you have to hire someone to fill your shoes, so will your team members. Coach them to reorganize their own areas, if necessary. Help them identify people in their area who can manage the operations and share the strategic parts of their jobs. Teach them to delegate appropriately and build strength in their own departments, just as you are doing. If they are afraid to hire people smarter than they are, or are unable to groom the next generation of company leaders, that's a red flag. Remind reluctant team members that they need people ready to step into their shoes if they ever want to be promoted. Developing the next generation of company leaders is one of your - and their - critical responsibilities.

Despite your efforts to find the right people, you may still need to make a tough call if a team member is not suited for strategic leadership. But if they don't get it, think carefully about replacing them. A growth company needs to identify and develop new leaders at a rate commensurate with its growth.

Top Teams are a pivotal part of a great company. You will face challenges in building and aligning a diverse set of people to work towards a common goal. If you can master the development and leadership of a Top Team, you'll be able to sustain growth that's greater than you ever imagined.

More Resources

For more information, take a look at Building the Awesome Organization, the Kauffman Center Series book that includes an entire chapter on "Prime Your Team for Growth".

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