The phrase ‘minimum viable product’ has become part of the start-up lexicon.   It’s a useful term for that significant milestone in the start-up life cycle—when an entrepreneur has built a stripped-down most basic version of his or her product so he can begin to get customers and feedback.

Borrowing from this phrase, I’ve found myself highlighting a different inflection point in the start-up lifecycle: when it has a ‘minimum viable team.’  This is the group of initial employees that enable the CEO to focus exclusively on performing the duties that CEOs are supposed to do. 

At each stage of start-up development, additional employees increasingly specialize in their roles.  In the extreme, when founders first setup shop they do everything.  Founder-CEOs initially act as CEO, CTO, head of HR, head of sales, administrative assistant, junior operations managers, and mail boy.  As the company grows, those functions are divested to members of the team who specialize in those respective areas. 

Eventually founder-CEOs find themselves entering a state of operational nirvana in which they transcend into handling only the core responsibilities of the CEO.  In my view, this is a very short list limited to:  strategic alignment, company culture, talent recruitment and optimization, and broadly being the firm’s face for marketing and fundraising.

This nirvana is likely to be interrupted.   When a team changes, the CEO may temporarily pick up slack.   The inherent volatility of running a new company will also inevitably bring unexpected challenges that sit on the rocky banks of the CEO’s river of duties.

For some CEOs, there isn’t a team large enough to liberate him or her from non-core tasks.  A CEO also needs to be capable of appropriately delegating, and giving over certain responsibilities, so that the minimum viable team can free up the CEO.

Whether or not the minimum viable team phrase makes it into the mainstream start-up terminology, the concept should, as CEOs should be working toward developing an environment in which they can focus 100 percent on properly doing their job…and only their job.