Create A Team With Complementary Strengths

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This article originally appeared June 18, 2015 on the Stanford Graduate School of Business Tumblr blog, featuring XSeed Partner Alan Chiu.

“Winning teams pull together people with complementary strengths,” emphasized XSeed Capital Partner Alan Chiu (MSx ‘11) in a recent entrepreneurship talk at Stanford School of Engineering. Chiu shared advice for how engineering and business startup teammates can effectively and compassionately work together. Read top takeaways below:

It takes a team to win. Focus on maximizing value creation.

When starting off on building your product, aim to deepen your customer insight as much as you can, says Chiu. “You want to minimize the probability of building the wrong product. Building something that nobody cares about is hugely expensive.” In the early days of your venture, it is often helpful for everyone in the company to get customer exposure in order to understand their needs. Over time, you need to determine who on your team will be driving customer interviews and synthesizing the learning. Engineers can absolutely be the ones to do this, but it will force a tradeoff between how much time they spend with the customers and how much time they spend working on the product. Remember that each person on the team only has 24 hours in a day.

In order to scale your effectiveness, “you have to focus on what you can do for your company that can create the most value.” For both business people and engineers, this means asking yourself, “‘What is the one activity or limited set of activities that I do that will create the most value for the company?’ For everything else, find others who are best in class to take it on,” advises Chiu. Create a team of people with complementary strengths.

Building trust takes time.

Entrepreneurs should understand that both the technical and business teammates will have moments of vulnerability. Engineers could be concerned about their business partners’ level of dedication; they don’t want to be left hanging if the business person decides to go work on something else. On the other hand, if the business cofounder came up with the product idea, he or she is depending on someone else to build it. What if the engineer takes the idea and runs off with it?

Trust doesn’t happen overnight. Team members need to consistently deliver on their promises to show the other parties that they are serious and committed. Look for an ongoing, iterative accumulation of trust.

Step into your teammates’ worlds.

“Everyone is the center of their own universe,” reminded Chiu. Both engineers and business people can benefit by stepping out of their worlds and into their colleagues’ worlds. By empathizing with another person’s stress, pain, and fear, you’ll be more effective in understanding what you need to do to help that teammate be more successful. Connecting with the other person’s “universe” can even open up additional opportunities for you. Who wouldn’t want to work with someone who consistently helps make them successful?

Read more from Alan: “Overcoming Common Challenges Between Business and Technical Cofounders” and follow him on Twitter: @AlanChiu