This article first appeared on September 16, 2011.
How can I ensure that my business remains nimble as we grow? I’m currently hiring lots of new people who all have great ideas, but I don’t want decision-making to get bogged down and for us to become too bureaucratic. What should I do?
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You’re quite right to be worried about this. Procrastination is the enemy of the start-up.
You need to be focused, hard-working, and willing to test and learn. And you need to be prepared to fail fast if you’re going to fail (which you almost certainly are, several times, on your way to success!)
Indecision occurs mostly because either (i) you are unclear as a group on what it is you’re trying to achieve, or (ii) healthy debate about the best way forward is not managed to an outcome.
Both of these problems are manifestations of a lack of leadership. Bureaucracy takes hold only if you allow it to. The best teams I’ve worked with spend a lot of time together.
They’re prepared to listen, unafraid to say what they think, and willing to then make a decision and move on.
In most cases, they are following the example set by their leader (or leaders). If this is your company then you need to set this example, and “live” it – your team will follow.
The worst teams I’ve worked with strive for consensus, and will put off making decisions in order to achieve this.
They have headstrong individuals who “grandstand” and are more interested in being right than getting things done.
Common goals don’t exist, or if they do the means for achieving them is muddy and unclear. They are usually led by individuals who themselves are unclear, and who hope that somehow their colleagues will deliver the “aha!’” moment.
Equally, their discussions and debates are allowed to go on endlessly.
This might be controversial, but pretty much every successful start-up I’ve ever seen is led well by a passionate entrepreneur or couple of entrepreneurs who are absolutely clear on what they want to achieve.
They recruit people who can do the things that they know need to be done to get there – and they never hire anyone unless they’re crystal clear about the role they’ll play.
So the team is there to help the leaders create the great business they have in their heads.
They spend a lot of time with their team developing a mutual understanding of what needs to be done, what they’ll have to do to get there, and – crucially – how they’ll have to behave and work together to get there.
Teams that do this well have individuals that can finish each other’s sentences. They don’t waste time debating, they just “do’”.
So, get clear on your goals – and the strategy and the culture you need to achieve them. Hire great people who will execute the plan.
Over communicate with them early on. Listen more than you talk. But then lead decisively.