Sunday, 17 February 2008

The common sense of entrepreneurial team building

Louisa Fletcher is currently the founder and MD of Propertypriceadvice – an internet business. She is also hugely successful as a person in terms of wealth and clarity of thought. Louisa comments on property in the media. She also seems to have swallowed some high powered batteries. Louisa is also young and pretty, so she ticks many boxes. Louisa recently delivered an inspirational speech on Enterprise Tuesday at Cambridge.

But what has this young, dynamic woman got to say about the way she hires, and then builds people into her entrepreneurial businesses? Surely we need to hear from the greyer haired entrepreneur to really understand the issues? Not a bit of it. She is also very smart and articulate.

Here are some tips that she has picked up, used or learnt through her own career:

You need to be able to make a “Land Rover bonnet” speech at the spur of a moment, much as a military leader might have to do to send his troops to battle. In other words leaders need to have the skill to be able to inspire their colleagues when needed.

The leader also needs to try and instil a team ethic where everyone comes together, especially at moments of urgent need. Can individuals within a group see themselves as team members and pitch-in when required.

Leadership is also a quality where you need to be able to “do stuff”. In other words your qualities of leadership should not start to create a distance from the coal face, especially in early stage and growing businesses.

The challenges of inheriting a team from an earlier leader are quite different to hiring your own. You need to spend much more time to get inside the heads of the people, to understand where they are coming from and what makes them tick.

Although you have a single team, there are several individuals and each has a separate need and motivation. It is really necessary to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team members and to ensure that you can draw on the best side of each person.

Sometimes – if the business is not going well – you may need to downsize and it is here that a leader can be seriously challenged. Not so much with the “firing part”, but with the retention of those who stay. Dealing with the sense of guilt of the “stayers” and motivating them to give of their best in a really bad situation. You end up splitting teams and destroying loyalties. Take advice and have a mentor handy to deal with the pressures. In these situations you need to show the “balance sheet”, be open and people will understand more easily the driving forces of your decisions.

The worst form of team building is spending 4 days in the Brecon beacons getting wet, hungry, cold and irritable. The best is to find out what makes people tick by asking them and then developing processes to meet those needs.

Fear and respect are sometimes used in management. So is trust. People seem to use these sentiments in different ways. But at the heart of a positive team experience, there must be some combination of trust and mutual respect!

In hiring future team members, Louisa only uses networks of people. This secures trusted individuals, probably with shared values. Rather than interviewing people she also has them do a day’s work or a short assignment – a sort of “try it before you buy it” approach.

Her phone is never off – especially for colleagues. Louisa likes to be “always available and accessible”. Perhaps she is young enough for this extreme measure! Often the calls are to seek her confirmation and reaffirm her trust in the team, rather than to make decisions.

At the tail end of her speech we heard a metaphor – managers need to be like a pane of glass. To stop the bad stuff reaching people who report to you but to allow the light to shine through.

As a self confessed control-freak Louisa has worked hard on gaining a better understanding of team building and leadership and she exemplifies the possibility of making a success of taking on a leadership role.


Berry said...

I agree - 4 days geeting wet in the Brecon Beacons is not my cup of tea - cooking on the other hand is warm and has a great meal at the end of it - all in all a good result!

April Andy said...

I agree with you berry.. Cooking is really a very fun and exciting form of team building... It allows team members to explore and experiment their unique cooking ideas.. It is also one good form of bonding.

All the best!

Team Building Company said...

I totally disagree, team building is something that is best done out of your comfort zone, it's pointless if you don't have to work to get something out of it.