Team Design

Posted on May 10, 2018. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I don’t hear people talk about building a team as a design problem, but I think it is. It’s not just butts in seats for sure, but it’s more than that. When i design teams, I tend to look at each candidate as a specific shape. The challenge is to design a group where all the shapes fit together and align with the goals and strategy for the group. I think this concept often gets simplified into “culture fit” but I don’t think culture is a homogenous constant…rather I see it as an amalgamation of individual personalities and aptitudes. Something I’ve come to realize is that there is more than one construction of shapes that get you to your desired end state. I’ve learned not to be attached to an initial design, to assemble one piece at a team, and then evolve the design as the shapes come together. I try to anticipate a few moves ahead. I ask myself, is this a shape that fits well with many other shapes, or is it a “pointy shape” that fits with a much smaller set. Ideally, I try to sequence the pieces so that flexible shapes come in first, and pointy shapes later. Both can be hugely valuable, but adding pointy shapes at the beginning limits the pool of subsequent additions. Pointy shapes don’t feel foundational to me, and a strong foundation is everything when attracting the right talent to accomplish something special.

I love the design challenge of building early teams. It doesn’t feel like recruiting to me. It feels like searching for puzzle pieces that fit together. When working on a puzzle, I always start by sifting through the entire box and finding the four corners. That’s my foundation. Yes, I’ll sort a bit and start to group things as I see them, but I won’t start assembling anything until I’ve got the corners. They orient you. After the corners come the border, which further solidifies the foundation of all future work. From there, you can work on different pieces of the puzzle simultaneously…make progress, but not become attached to finding a specific piece for a specific section at a specific time. I’ve come to realize that designing a team is fluid. When you become attached to a specific construction or a specific outcome the design challenge becomes intractable.

Actually, as I think about it, I feel like the design challenge looks more like taking two puzzles, mixing up all the pieces, and then trying to complete one of them from the combined set. No matter how beautiful, not every piece is going to be right for the puzzle at hand. Sometimes you have to sift through both boxes, recognize a piece, see that it’s attractive or high value, but be ok if it’s from a puzzle you may or may not get to once you complete the one at hand.

Sometimes it can be emotional, finding a corner and realizing it’s from the wrong puzzle, but life is long and orienting outside of your immediate focus is valuable too. Building teams is a career long pursuit. You will or won’t get to the puzzle that needs that corner, but it’s good to know where corners are independent of which one your working on.

I think it takes practice to see people’s true shape and extrapolate out what they and you together are capable of. That’s experience and craft and is tough to learn without seeing a lot…but when you get over the hurdle, it’s like turning the light on after you’ve been working in the dark.


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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I think there is one metric that can be used to measure the value of a human life and that’s impact. How did you change things? How many people did you touch? How different is the world because you lived in it and how positive was the change that you affected? (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it) You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com

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