Of Start-ups & High Performance Teams – II

Original teams rely strongly on innovation, finding solutions on the fly, trying out things never tried before and using the inventive capacity all the time.

From a team building perspective, start-ups go through different phases in their early years. In the beginning, it is mostly all about the core team. Then comes a stage when the core team must expand its sphere of influence to a larger group of people who come to join in the journey. Next, the start-up survives and moves on to become an established entity – it is in this phase that we have to look at teaming as an abiding way of the organization. No longer is it about just a few people or for that matter a group. This is what I wrote about in the last blog and we carry the discussion onto this week as I show case the learning from Arjun Erry and Mohinish.

Arjun Erry brought out some very interesting aspects of second-stage teaming. According to him, it is critical that we recognize “core” competence of the core-team. Find the gaps and fill them by hiring outstanding people. We have all heard about the idea of core competence and of course we know about core teams. But do core teams truly know their core competence? Do they feel emotionally secure to admit what they are not so good at? And what about timing? What happens when a core team takes longer than necessary to recognize its own gaps, initiates action, brings in supplementary talent and then assimilates the newcomer to eventually get the wheel of the chariot added? Well, if not sensed at the right time that you have a missing wheel, before you have even strated, the race is declared over!

Arjun Erry was looking at issues related to acquiring key talent that completes the team. In doing so, he underlined the importance of always going the extra mile to hire the “A” players. It is tough selling, but often the most critical first step in giving booster power to the rocket. Why “A” players? “Because”, “A”s hire “A”s, then the “B”s come. What do the “B”s do? They go and hire the “C”s. Before you know you have diluted the genetic pool of the organization and that can well mean the difference between a high performance company and just another start-up.

Arjun recommends that entrepreneurs take professional help in the hiring process. Not all founding team have the capability to talent scout. Some times you are so busy that you do not have the capacity to broad base your search. There are outstanding people who are often looking for the excitements of a start-up but belong to another industry! It is a good idea to choose a like-minded search organization and enlist their support just as you would go and sell your vision to an advertising agency or a PR firm to get their mindshare for the long run.

But handing over your specifications for a key hire to the agency is not enough. Arjun says, you must keep your involvement in the hiring process high. It is a top-management imperative. It is not something that can be outsourced and forgotten about or handled by HR. At each stage of talent induction and assimilation, the start-up team must deeply interact with the set of people who come on board – they must treat them as if they are semi-founders. When you build that mindset as against treating them as “employees”, you get ownership and not just bodies that are “work-for-hire”.

Three people do not build a corporation; they build a 10-people team. That team in turn goes on to build another team of ten. So, spend significant time on the strategic vision with all the senior hires. Pay attention to the on-boarding process – it begins well before the person actually comes on board. Do not wait until the joining date. From the time you have made up your mind on the right person, keep engaged and involved with exchange of ideas, information and advice until he or she actually comes on board. This is obviously within the boundaries of business sense – you do not want to take risks in matters of intellectual property either way – make sure you are not compromising yours nor are you contaminating someone else’s. After all, the person is still not part of your organization and until someone has been “badged in”, there are limits to how far you can go.

Finally, the start-up gets into stage 3 of its orbit. It is no longer a rag-tag army – or a bunch of toddlers. Now the organization has people, customers, multiple branches, systems and processes. Probably the organization is three years old!

It is time now to shed some and gain some. Taking on from Arjun, Mohinish recommends that the original team now must shift from an overwhelmingly inward focus, to an external one.

This is the time to pay attention to building a strong middle-management; it is time to focus on the robustness of operations.

Original teams rely strongly on innovation, finding solutions on the fly, trying out things never tried before and using the inventive capacity all the time.

Now, innovation alone would not do, you must build domain capability as well. Imagine you are a company that started in the wireless area. Now you have to say what you do in wireless for automotive sector, wireless in medical sector or wireless for entertainment application development! The kind of teaming required in the early stage and what you need now to build bodies of expertise are going to be very different.

Going forward, this is also the time that you have to be choosy about the kind of culture you want to take with you.  All that worked before, is not going to work going forward.

In the beginning, every one pitches in. That is what built energy, camaraderie and the romantic concept of the garage! Things now must get systematic; people cannot just be doing heroic stuff all the time. People must build respect for groups and not just individuals. Quite often, as the transition happens, the original group feels disenchanted – people miss their childhood, so to speak, and cling on. Childhood days may be beautiful but imagine remaining growth-stunted!

Teams must collectively move on; in the process they must shed some old behavior and adopt new best practices.

While presenting the case to migrate from “everyone pitches in here” to  the “things get done here” state, Mohinish talked about what he calls the “Suri Effect”.

In one of Mohinish’s earlier start-up, there was the unmistakable joy-de-vibre that even had the neighbor excited. This Mr. Suri loved the smell of the start-up and would frequently pitch in – there was no way you could unload a cart or move furniture without Mr. Suri being involved. It led them to call it the “Suri Effect”.

But a time must come when the teenage stuff must be left behind.

“Build a culture that builds scale”, is Mohinish’s advice. Apart from cultures that build scale, Mohinish spoke about Vision.

Give and state the Vision – again and again. Many organizations tire out or think articulating the Vision is a “state once, live forever” idea. It is not.

It is a long journey and people want to hear about the Vision, they want to know why we are in it together? They need to hear it every now and then. Newcomers and the old alike. But why Vision?

Because two kinds of organizational decisions must always flow out of the Vision – people decisions and strategy decisions. Vision must drive each time you have to “make a call” in matters of people and strategy.

While focusing on building the team for the next phase of your company’s life, look for hunger, common emotional glue and commitment.

Finally, every organization needs to see different “leadership facets” over the years. In the third stage that Mohinish talked about, three facets of leadership behavior become critical. This is the stage in which the leader herself becomes the example of what it means to work for this organization. Two, her emotional resilience is what goes on to build trust in the organization and three, it is the leader who helps to instill and clarify what subsequently becomes “our way of doing things” – starting from how people run meetings to how every organization may have a unique way to resolve conflicts.

So much for today, learning from Mohit, Arjun and Mohinish! Next week, let us shift gears from discussing start-ups to what goes into building great character. For that, I will take all of you to the National Institute of Technology at Trichy to meet a very unusual person.

Until then, Go Kiss the World!
Subroto Bagchi

Shivaji Mohinta Says
Friday September 12th 2008

Sir,Can’t agree with u more.In todays intense competitive world where there is a pressure on topline most new recruits are thrown in water & are expected to swim fast & catch high quality fish! The time for induction & assimilation is hardly given.Due to fear of failure amongst the youngster’s the incidence of taking short-cut routes & adoption of unethical practices/wrong-commitments are very high.


Lubna Says
Sunday September 14th 2008

Dear Subroto,
This is a fascinating post. Guess, a sense of ownership is required to be bestowed on each and every employee even in a well established organisation (even if not a semi founder status) – deep interaction at the hiring stage is required even here to ensure a proper cultural fit.
In fact, as organisations grow they tend to concentrate less on this aspect and sometimes look at employees as just another number that is required to be filled in. A vision statement on the blackboard isnt’ enough, it has to percolate down to each employee almost on a daily basis, especially so in larger organisations where there is wide gap between the “visionary team” and the “hoi polloi”. It is here that hiring the right people at the intermediary level (say managerial level) is essential as this group helps propel the vison down to others in the organisation. A “strong middle management” as you have mentioned is vital for the success of any large well established organisation.
The only hitch – at times, ‘A level” or even “B level” talent is hard to come by and the clock keeps ticking.
I think HR teams have the most stressful job in the world.
Best regards

Soumendu Roy Says
Monday September 15th 2008

Thank you very much for the gift “Go Kiss the World”.

I first saw you in one of the Microsoft’s company meeting, couple of months back and I was impressed with your knowledge.

Till date I have been a high-performer. But I had been able to achieve things because of sheer luck of the IT boom and my passion towards work. But I sincerely lack knowledge and currently going thorugh mid-life crisis.

I aspire to be a man, who at the end of the day should be seen as a man with vast knowledge. But I don’t know where to start from. And to reach at my destination I need to sacrifice a lot of earthly pleasures, which again though not my priority but I am entrapped into them.

Suggest me some beginner books, where I can start my journey to gain knowledge.

Soumendu Roy
(I don’t want to be a kupo-monduk. Till date I am like that)

Subroto Bagchi Says
Tuesday September 16th 2008

Dear Soumendu,

You do not want to be seen as someone with vast knowldge, you want to be seen as someone who made a difference. However small, to someone outside of your own self.

Best wishes,


    Soumendu Roy Says
    Tuesday September 16th 2008

    Thank you very much for the response and it made my day. The response from you was a real surprise, but somehow I was expecting.

    I hope I have understood what you meant by making a difference and let me see whether I can do that or not.

    Time and again I will keep bothering you for suggestions, please don’t mind.

    Soumendu Roy

Jagdeep Shokeen Says
Wednesday September 17th 2008

Hello Subroto

I am a software professional with 7 years of experience in Indian IT industry. Personally, I feel satisfied with the focus on quality by indian companies. CMMI – 5, PCMMI , ISO etc all are interesting initiatives.

One thing which I am not comfortable with is soft skills and people management skill of Indian managers, specially when I compare with their western counterparts .

What do you think the initiatives we can take to fill this gap in Indian managers.


Saturday September 20th 2008

Hello Sir,

As an intrapreneur – I really admired lessons you have put forward in The High Performance Entrepreneur.

As an individual who is willing to grow and deliver value to the world around, I loved Go kiss the world.

Entrepreneurship has a vast reach to touch so many lives and bring about a real (and big) difference to people’s lives and society in general. More than building great products or delivering great services or making lot of money – entrepreneurship is a state of mind – how you think, what you think and how you take things. On that note, I would also like to add that I have not seen a single successful entrepreneur who carries negative attitude!

One of the key lessons for every professional is to learn to think like an entrepreneur – even when they are on the job. Your book touches this core point.

With respect to your posts on talent and hiring right people, I recently read/blogged about McKnight’s principles on Innovation resulting in success of 3M – a company that thrives on innovation.

Just to reproduce them here –

“As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women, to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good people, are going to want to do their jobs in their own way.”

”Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to tell those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs.”

”Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.”

Thank you so much on behalf of all young professionals for your books and we look forward to many more books/valuable insights from you in the future.

Best Regards,

Tanmay Vora

Debachou Says
Tuesday September 23rd 2008

Dear Subroto
Next is long overdue ! When to get ? I sent you a mail requesting for some insight in to my problem . Would you pl clarify your views on my questions ? Regards and best wishes

prashanth Says
Tuesday September 23rd 2008

Dear Subroto,

I just read your book “Go kiss the world” and wanted to tell you that this is easily one of the best books I have read. Your professional experiences which was mentioned in the book was really very great to read.

Geetha Says
Wednesday September 24th 2008

Nikhil, would like to share this article with you and everybody else on this blog please.

“Make your child financial literate

Teaching your children about money is the best gift you can give them. They may not appreciate it now, but they will thank you when they are financially responsible and successful adults.

Peer pressure is probably the worst enemy of the parental purse. Ravi and his wife Maya were having trouble with their 12-year-old son, Rohan. The boy seemed incapable of delaying gratification – he had to have everything now. He lacked confidence, and because of peer pressure, he wanted everything his friends got – not just toys, but also more expensive stuff, like clothes, mobile phones, and other things. Rohan apparently thought his parents were very rich, with an unlimited reservoir of money.

At a loss to deal with this, Ravi and Maya sought help. Rohan is hardly a ‘problem child’ where financial literacy is concerned. It’s an issue with a lot of children who are exposed to affluence at a tender age. Perhaps the main reason for this is the lack of clear communication about money. Often, all a child has to do to get his parents to part with money is to ask for it. Parents should talk to their children about money as comfortably as they talk about cricket or a trip to the mall. Children need to understand what their parents do for a living, and not harbour the illusion that money grows on trees.

Indeed, it’s very important for all parents to discuss and share their values with regard to money, what it means to them, and what they hope to accomplish with it. As a parent, you can spur your child to think by asking her what she thinks of money, and to explain its uses. The hardest thing for you, as a parent, to learn – and perhaps the best thing you’ll teach your child – is to say ‘no’. Teach your child that it’s sometimes better not to have something you want, or to wait before you can get it. Say, “Yes, we can afford to buy this, but this is not the best use of our money”, or “I do not want to spend our money for this.” Appeal to her reason by explaining your decision.

Part of the reason children have confused ideas is that they often get mixed messages about the easy availability of money. There are four main drivers for this. First, that conjuring trick you do at the ATM. It really does seem the money appears magically and freely from an ATM or credit card. When your child is old enough to use the ATM, open a junior account for him. Let him spend money from there, and ensure he reads the receipts – it will make the ATM seem a little less magical.

The second reason children get mixed messages is time – or rather, the lack of it. Most urban families today haven’t much to spare, and unfortunately, money becomes a substitute. The third driver is friends and peers. Your child’s friends can be a much more powerful influence than your family. And the fourth is advertising and the media. Despite your best efforts to instill good financial values in your children, corporates with enormous advertising budgets and pervasive campaigns will manage to tempt your child. The sooner a child understands how his parents think about money, the less mixed all those messages will seem.

Of course, it’s not just children who are confused about money – grown-ups are, too. Financial literacy is Greek and Latin to many of in this era of economic prosperity. Often, earning money is not the issue – managing it is the problem, or – for an unfortunate few – a nightmare. Fundamental things get overlooked, such as figuring out how much life insurance one needs. Many people find themselves ensnared in debt at a young age, or in some other hot water because of bad money strategies. One comes across several people who can’t save, despite earning more than Rs 50 lakhs a year.

An MBA from one of the IIMs or Harvard will not teach you how to manage your personal finances as much as the basics that you pick up at a young age. There’s no better time to teach your child the meaning of money than when she is in school.

Financial illiteracy is very dangerous to your health – not just financial but also physical well-being. How you live your life is key to what you teach your children about money. A real estate developer has a great way to teach his children the virtue of patience. When they clamour for even something relatively simple, like a pair of jeans, he says to them that this week things are a bit tough, and they will have to wait for a few weeks. This, despite the fact that he is a real estate developer, and quite capable of buying the entire jeans store. His children have adapted to this attitude, and have learned to wait. He has thus gifted his children the invaluable ability to delay gratification. Far too many parents lack confidence in their own financial skills. Often, they feel the best they can do is to cajole their children to save and to not spend too much.

Financial literacy basically means having a solid understanding of how to get money, spend it wisely, and handle credit. It means being able to distinguish between good, bad and ugly debt, and to live on a budget. It means protecting what you have, through insurance. It means understanding what kinds of risks you’re exposed to, how best to mitigate them, and how to invest. And last but not least, it means understanding how to use your money for the betterment of the world.

Improving basic financial education at the elementary and secondary school levels can promote financial literacy, and help young people avoid poor decisions which could take years to recover from. Unfortunately, this aspect of education is not a high priority for educators and policymakers, including those who understand the problem. Financial literacy is not just a children’s activity, but a major family issue. Just as extracurricular activities are important to a child’s overall development, schools and parents should recognise, financial literacy is arguably one of the most important life skills needed for a student’s long-term success in the world. Financial literacy is financial self defense. It should be part of every child’s core curriculum.”

Sunday February 1st 2009

dear s.bhagchi,
iam planning to work on a Phd dissertation,”Creating and sustaining high performance behaviour _ Role of structural and hrm interventions”.

Could i speak to u in this matter.


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