Homegrown: Building a high-performance team
Interview with Behaviour Specialist Sarah Callender, COO of Duo Global Consulting
For scaling tech businesses, the need to recruit fast is often driven by development needs, the need to innovate or to deliver on the product roadmap you promised your investors, but what if hiring at speed means you don’t end up with the right mix of people to really drive the business forward long term?
We caught up with human behaviour specialist Sarah Callender from Duo Global Consulting, to ask her what really matters when it comes to building a high-performance team in the tech world.
“When it comes to high performance, the first place to start is the leadership team – everything must cascade from here. In most businesses, it’s the team which doesn’t have the right mix of behaviours to drive success. We have worked with a lot of businesses in the tech space and it’s not only critical to have diversity of thinking across a leadership team but to understand each other’s individual behaviours and motivators to maximise performance and minimise unproductive clashes.”
Big thinking versus detail focus – finding the balance
“The perfect score card, as we call it, would ensure your leadership team has the right balance of big thinkers and those who are more detail focused to turn those ideas into reality. You’d have the right balance of those who are motivated by goals and achievement who will get the job done and those who are motivated by affiliation and managing people to drive great culture. Not everyone should be the same, and the importance of different behaviour patterns shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to building a winning team, especially if you have scale or exit in mind. You need to understand how to balance behaviours in the right way, and how to work alongside your opposites to get the most out of each other.
“Often what we see in tech businesses is one of two extremes; one being an imbalance of too many big thinkers at the top table and not enough people who can take a step back and work out how that huge idea is going to happen in practice. Or to the other extreme there are too many detailed tech thinkers, who struggle to turn their ideas into a scalable business plan and vision.”
When it comes to the tech industry disruption is key, so it’s essential to have big picture, visionary thinkers in the mix.”
“Too many reflective characters or detail focused leaders can stall growth and they can sometimes fail to see the 5 year and 10 year vision clearly. But it’s important to have enough of a balance in the top team of people who can pull back those ideas where needed, build the processes and plans for scale and most importantly be able to communicate those ideas effectively to bring your team on the journey and get them bought into the vision too.”
Attitude to change
“We describe behaviour patterns in relation to change as ‘same’, ‘evolution’ or ‘difference, which describe the varying degrees of how we all feel about change from ‘not liking or enjoying it’ to ‘loving it’. In the tech space, change is fast and inevitable, so when it comes to hiring or picking those who will join your leadership team, this is a big issue. Having too many people in your team who are in the ‘sameness’ camp, with an aversion to change, will create real issues for your business when it comes to innovation or growth. At the same time, not everyone has to sit in the ‘difference’ camp; it’s great to have disruptors in the team who want to change the world and create and innovate at pace, but too many can cause unrest if the result is that the business heads off in too many different directions at once. Finding your perfect mix of ‘Evolution’ and ‘Difference’ is where the magic happens in the tech industry.
“For the founding tech entrepreneur, we often find behaviour patterns of high achievement, goal focus, big picture thinking and an extremelove of ‘difference’ and fast paced change – it’s what makes them the visionaries they are. But the trick to being a great leader is to understand your own behaviours and how they can impact your team, especially if I just described you.
“Imagine your more reflective team members, which tech businesses often have, or those who are only just in the evolutionary mindset. How do they respond when you are bursting with excitement and share your next disruptive plan? They will need someone else in the leadership team to be the communicator, someone who can flex their behaviours for both you and the team to break down the change into smaller chunks. They’ll need to show them the steps to get to the end goal and what improvements are going to be made as a result of the change and give them time to reflect and process a little before they are fully on board.
“If you’re the entrepreneurial thinker, consider who in your team can be the person to stand between your ideas and your team to drive the best results.”
What do we really mean by balancing behaviours?
“We see it happen time and time again when businesses talk about ‘mixing teams’. Before you know it there are new pod stations in the office with lots of opposite characters now sitting together. But this isn’t actually what we mean when we talk about balancing out gehaviours in the team and playing to people’s strengths – it’s not a physical environment thing.
“In this situation we’ve forgotten to take into account working preferences, a crucial step in getting the most out of your team. We call this proximity working vs independence. There are varying scales ithin this, but typically people either prefer working in proximity to others, chatting things through, asking questions, working collaboratively or sharing responsibilities, or they like to work more independently, sometimes in a quieter environment, even at home or with more formal times to work as a team. Neither is right or wrong, but if you balance behaviours by sitting the bubbly sales and marketing team with the developer team or the auditors there could be fireworks and productivity will certainly go down.
“Instead I recommend creating project teams with the right mix of behaviour patterns to get stuff done. This might mean they work together on a very specific product development or business project, where you carefully select those who will complement each other, but with the opportunity to head straight back to theirpreferred working environments where theyare most productive and high performing.
“What this also creates is more opportunity for diversity of thinking, by putting people together who will approach projects completely differently, challenge decision making and drive best practice, but without making them swim upstream to their own behaviours in a non-productive or unenjoyable way.”
The power of motivation
“I’ve saved the most important behaviour pattern for last, as understanding how your team is motivated really is the key to success. Not just so that you can build amotivated, high performing team, but so that they can enjoy the journey with you.
“Understanding what motivates your team at every level will also ensure you are the best leader you can be, either because you take steps to better understand and adjust the way you work with people to become a motivator, or you recognise where you need to bring in others to fill in the gaps in your organisation to fast track success.”
People are fundamentally motivated by three key things: ‘power’, ‘achievement’ or ‘affiliation’, or a mix of the three to varying degrees.”
“Being motivated by power can be perceived as a negative, but often this is a preference to have ownership or control over a project; to be seen to take the lead and to take on responsibility.
“If harnessed in the right way, those motivated by power can drive growth and success. Those motivated by achievement are target-oriented, focused on the task in hand and getting to the end of a project with a successful outcome. They might also prefer to know their next career steps and how to get there. For those motivated by ‘affiliation’ they love to support their teams and thrive on the success of everyone; they are born people managers and often dedicated to the development of their teams.
“Understanding motivations, alongside other behavioural patterns will help leaders to ensure those taking key roles in the business are playing to their strengths and driving both performance and culture simultaneously. It’s also especially important in the tech space, as those motivated by power and achievement can struggle and be demotivated by setbacks, which can come thick and fast for a scaling business in very competitive markets.
“Another key consideration around motivation is for the business leader, and what is personally motivating you at this stage in your journey. When it comes to scaling or preparing for an exit, those motivations can change and move to a more extreme focus on achievement; a focus on hitting targets and goals and achieving everything you set out to before you hand over the business to someone else.
“The best advice I could give is to recognise this shift in yourown motivations and remember to enjoy the journey and not just focus on the end destination.
“If you run the business just to sell, your team will feel this at every turn and not only will this impact your culture right now, but it could impact the price tag for your business should you lose key people along the way.”