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Teamwork: It's not just chemistry

By Scott Kirsner
Globe Correspondent / December 8, 2008
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Putting a team together. As President-elect Barack Obama was unveiling Cabinet nominees last week, investor Michael Feinstein was blogging about the dynamics that make a team effective.

With all the political emphasis on Obama's "team of rivals" approach, I've been thinking about what makes a good team. Politics is different than entrepreneurship, however. Lincoln had to appease various constituencies to maintain support for his policies. As the country was at risk of being torn apart, with him as President but relatively unknown, he needed support from other power holders. In a company, it's very different.

On a corporate team, you want to have representation from various types of experiences:

  • In your market, and from outside your market.
  • In companies your size, and those that are larger (or smaller).
  • People from various companies, and not too many from any one company.
  • Independent thinkers who aren't afraid to express their opinion. But also people who are able to "disagree and commit" if a decision doesn't go their way.
  • Personal chemistry is also critical. You have to enjoy working with the people on your team, but you don't have to be their friend socially.

    Another important team dynamic is getting rid of people who don't pull their weight. Although no one wants to see someone fired, knowing that poor performance isn't tolerated is actually a motivator for the strong members of the team.

    There is no magic formula for the right team, but don't be afraid to hire team members who are even stronger than you are. They'll make your company stronger. Would you be worried about hiring someone who turns out to be so strong that they could become your boss? If so, you probably aren't qualified to make the hiring decision yourself. From the company's perspective, those great people will lead the company into the future.

    Acquired, then shuttered. Why would a company get acquired, then have its flagship service shut down? Often, with Internet-oriented software companies, it happens simply because the buyer wants to own a piece of technology, or bring in some talented software developers. One recent situation involved Pownce, a "micro-blogging" service that tried to compete with Twitter. It will cease operations Dec. 15 after being bought by SixApart. This buy/kill trend bugs Antonio Rodriguez, an entrepreneur-turned-executive at Hewlett-Packard.

    First it was iWantSandy, and now it is Pownce. The new trend seems to be that instead of going out of business, the founders of these Web 2.0 services prefer to claim that they have been "acquired" and will thus be shutting down their respective money-losing services and stranding whatever users they had.

    Back in the good old days when your start-up failed, you went out of business, dealt with your lawyers to declare bankruptcy, and then went to get a job. I remember doing that in 2002 . . . You had to explain to a bunch of potential employers why you failed. But you also had to explain it to users, friends, and neighbors.

    Come on guys, just admit that you failed - it happens to all of us - and then call it what it is. I care much more about keeping the web a lively and experimental place than I do about your fragile egos.

    Web innovation persists. Tom Summit, a recruiter who runs a blog called Buzz in the Hub, is a booster of the monthly demo night called Web Innovators Group. In just three years, the event has grown into Boston's biggest (free) gathering for Internet start-ups. It takes place Tuesday night at the Royal Sonesta Cambridge. Advance registration is required.

    WebInno was founded and is currently led by David Beisel of Venrock. It is the stalwart networking event for mobile and web technology startups in the Boston area.

    Started informally in the fall of 2005, it has grown to the present day where up to 800 people gather to shmooze and review the latest crop of services from boot-strapped or seed funded companies.

    I can't quite put my finger on why, but the upcoming crop of presenting companies seems to be especially top-quality this time around. Check out the list below. See you there.

    Main Dishes (featured on-stage presenters):

    TripChill - Alex Shore, Dave Miller, and Chris Holt
    Local Motors - John B. Rogers Jr.
    Crimson Hexagon - Candace Fleming and Perry Hewitt

    Have you seen an interesting local business blog item? E-mail

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