In what was one of those "in real life" moments, yesterday I had confirmation once again about how important it is to have a small but capable team. Our team was evaluating some designs for a rebranding effort, and I realized that unconsciously I'd selected a great team to participate. The team was small enough for good communications and quick decisions, and diverse and distributed enough to represent many perspectives. While the team structure wasn't exactly planned, it was serendipitous. Having a good, small team makes everything work more effectively.
Whether you are a nascent entrepreneur or a corporate innovator, this is one truth that is often ignored or overlooked. You'll hear about small teams, and you'll hear about diverse teams, but what really matters is putting together the smallest possible team that has the best representation of all the functions and components that matter. When I looked at the team we'd assembled for our rebranding I realized we had sales and non-sales people, marketing and non-marketing people, people who represented key services, people who understood the longevity of the organization and people who were new to it. It was diverse, yes, but diverse in many ways.
The Rule of Three
One of my favorite organizational "rules' comes from the Marine Corps. Since they argue, tongue firmly in cheek, that Marines aren't very smart, they keep their organizational structures fairly lean. The Marines operate on a rule of three. Three soldiers in a rifle squad, lead by a corporal. Three squads in a platoon, led by a lieutenant. And so on. You get the point - a small cohesive team, so that communication is simple, people understand their roles and the team can act quickly and in sync.
While I'm not sure every entrepreneur or innovator needs to operate with only three team members, it's the spirit of the idea that matters. Mythologies abound: entrepreneurs tend to "go it alone" trying to do everything themselves, not realizing how much one more team member with complementary skills can provide. Innovation teams in mid-sized and larger companies often become unwieldy, too big and too divisive because so many people want to "ride along" or observe the process, or feel their perspective or voice must be heard, making the teams too large to move quickly.
Wearing several hats
There is both an opportunity and a risk associated with this small but diverse team. The opportunities are evident - more speed, more cohesion, more decisive action. One of the biggest challenges is the fact that to achieve a really productive but small team, people have to wear several hats. For example, in our team updating our branding, one person wore the "sales" hat, the "historical perspective hat" and "member of the leadership team" hat. For a short project like a branding refresh, wearing multiple hats isn't too hard. For a longer engagement, standing up a new company or bringing a new product to market, wearing a number of hats can get a bit, well, exhausting.
This is why choosing your counterparts is so important. Finding a small team that complements you, can disagree without being disagreeable, who pull together when the decision is made, and who represent a number of perspectives simultaneously is rare and extremely valuable. As an entrepreneur or innovator, this is perhaps your most important task next to creating your vision - building a small team that enables your vision. Don't shortchange the development, or worse, collect a team that doesn't help achieve your goals.