Career, Generous, On Writing, Startup, Uncategorized

When you get a chance to go back to a great team, jump at the opportunity!

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courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/hernanpc  

Have you ever been on a great team?

I mean the kind of team that people and alumni talk about years later. I’m talking about a team that produces results, leads the market, and is the kind of team that spawns other great teams. It’s hard to produce these kinds of results once, so it’s all the more remarkable when the same team produces another high-performing team (and highly correlated to success in the new venture)

In my career, I have been on great teams, and also participated in not-so-great teams.

Here are a few things that great teams do that mediocre teams do not do:

Great Teams Focus Their Efforts

In a startup (or really inside any company) there is always too much to do and almost always not enough time and resources to do it. Great teams build a culture where people focus on the next best thing they can do to improve the company, and make it easy for people to work together to gain results. For example, when you cut a lightly used feature and take the time to improve an existing feature, you are lowering the surface area of your product and helping the whole team to feel better about the quality of your software.

Mediocre teams work on many projects at once and never ship. On these teams, someone always claims credit for doing the work instead of giving kudos to another team member to congratulate them on a job well done. Mediocre teams endlessly add features without taking the time to ask customers whether the existing features meet their needs.

Great Teams Identify and Amplify Team Strengths

On a great team, it’s easy to find specialists. They are busy doing what they do best – not struggling at tasks they do the worst – and producing strong results. Some of the specialists have a specialty of getting other people to make decisions, push themselves to do new things, or to reduce the overall quantity of work to produce higher quality work. Great teams form around individuals who have strengths the whole team can use. These teams ask “how can I help?” to each other rather than saying “I’m too busy – can you ask someone else?”

On a mediocre team, it’s hard to determine what anyone does well, because everyone is meeting with each other in the same meetings. There is no time for work during the work day, because no one comes prepared to discuss items at meetings, and people spend the meeting time multitasking and doing the work they could not complete in their previous meetings. Mediocre teams leach away the strength of their individual specialists by creating an environment where no one knows how to make a decision and where no one feels empowered to ask for that decision.

Great Teams Are Resilient

Having a great team does not isolate you from conflict. Great teams are effective at meeting conflict head-on, discussing the problem, finding a solution, and then moving forward either by “disagreeing and committing” or by genuine consensus. These teams are resilient because during times of trouble team members lean on each other’s strengths and find solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

Mediocre teams fall apart or descend into chaos during stressful situations. There are few things more disappointing than thinking you’re on a great team, encountering a stressful situation, and then realizing your team is rather mediocre. Instead of the support you get from a great team, on a mediocre team it ends up being every person for themselves.

Great teams are hard to find.

I recently joined the team at Kustomer because this is a great team solving a hard problem in an important market – CRM for support customers – and I wanted to be part of that effort. So far, working at Kustomer feels similar to the atmosphere I shared with some of the team members when we worked together at Assistly. We work hard, we play hard, and we are building a business centered on our customers. But what makes a team great?

Great teams sometimes form by themselves and sometimes are made. People know a great team when they experience it. Great teams do not last forever, because culture is hard. When you get the band back together, it doesn’t always work. But when it does, it’s amazing.

Kustomer is a great team. We are crushing it. That doesn’t mean we’re always right – it means we are going after a great market with proven technology expertise, deep domain expertise, and a kick-ass attitude.

Generous, Media Mind

Take a moment to say hello today

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photo by Richard Rinaldi

We all live in our cocoons – our preferred foods, music, routes we take to work, and perhaps even the ideas we take for granted.

What would happen today if you said hello to someone you didn’t know yet, or someone you haven’t talked to in far too long? It might be great – you learn that the person missed you and it feels like yesterday since you last talked. It might feel weird – maybe you don’t have much in common anymore. Or it might feel human – like someone is taking the time to get in touch and is reaching out.

Photographer Richard Rinaldi is taking this human contact to a new level by asking strangers to pose as if they knew and liked each other – there’s a video here – and the result gives the subjects gratitude and a human connection.

What does Rinaldi’s work suggest? Reach out to strangers and people you don’t know very well. The results might surprise you – you might end up feeling more alive.

Food, Generous, On Writing

Getting 800+ People to Ride for Diabetes is cool.

800+ Raised 300k for Diabetes. Awesome.

On Saturday, I rode as part of a group of over 800 cyclists who raised money for Diabetes research in the American Diabetes Association’s annual Tour De Cure event in Redmond, WA. This was the 10th annual Tour in Seattle, and we raised almost $300,000 for the cause.

I ride because I’m at risk for Diabetes and I have family members who have the disease. You should be paying attention because of the staggering public health and civic cause this disease is causing. The takeaway? We should all be trying to move more, eat less, and help people stay physically active.

Here’s an infographic on the cost of Diabetes – it keeps going up.

 

Take a look - the cost of Diabetes is pretty astounding
Take a look – the cost of Diabetes is pretty astounding
Generous, Life Hacks

What I learned from a day as an elementary school volunteer

Dads and Dad-type figures are welcome in schools

You can make a difference in a kid’s life. Yesterday, I learned that kids will give you high fives when you walk down the corridors of their school. They will enthusiastically participate in a gym relay and try to show you how great their reading is and how they can follow the music teacher’s instructions. And they are all happy to see a Dad (or Dad-type figure) in their classroom.

I wanted to get more involved in my kids’ school, so when my friend told me about the Watch D.O.G.S. program (Dads of Great Students), I volunteered to spend a day as a volunteer at East Ridge Elementary school.

Here’s a story on Watch D.O.G.S. that ran on the Today Show earlier this year:

What’s involved in being a volunteer? Continue reading

Generous, Innovation

Get more kismet, or making your own opportunity

photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/ecstaticist/

Getting more opportunities to change your destiny might seem to be a dangerous choice if you are focused on loss aversion. But making more decisions (and creating additional ways to succeed and to fail) is another way of increasing your learning, opening more doors, and what Rand Fishkin calls “manufacturing serendipity.”

To folks worried about losing their time, the process of spending “at least 30% of my days filled with coffees, calls, and communication to folks outside the company from whom I’m seeking absolutely nothing and where my goal is merely to be helpful” might be ludicrous. But think of it this way: meeting new people ensures new opportunities. New opportunities beget other opportunities. And you can always choose whether to act upon (or merely think about) those opportunities.

My small contribution to this idea of manufacturing serendipity is to make a practice of introducing people in my contact universe. How does it work? Easy – every day I think either about questions people have asked me (“Do you know someone who is an expert in the non-profit world in Seattle”) or people who should know each other (“I’m new in town, and I’m wondering who would be some great people to meet”), or friends who are seeking new team members (“I need a professional Yak Herder who also knows Ruby on Rails.”)

The resullt? Between two and five personal introductions a day that have the following components:

  • The who – who are you meeting?
  • The why – why would this person be interesting to know?
  • The what – what is something that they are likely to be able to do for you?

The feedback that I’ve gotten from people who’ve been introduced this way is that this technique provides them with a great opportunity to connect, relevant context to make a better connection, and more opportunities to meet cool people.

What is an example of this sort of introduction?

An example might look like “Mary, meet John – he’s a Product Manager in Seattle who gets things done with a smile and is a great resource for learning more about Agile techniques. You should know John because he’s been a part of several small companies in the space and because he recently published an article in Fast Company – here’s a link.” I’d write a similar paragraph to introduce “Mary” to “John” and then step away and let them meet.

The goal of facilitating this introduction is just that – starting the conversation. I believe in manufacturing serendipity by connecting some of the amazing people I’ve met and making more of these connections every day. Is it work? A little, and it also increases the chance of meeting people who will enlighten and enhance your life (who you just haven’t met yet.)

Postscript – you should also read Fred Wilson’s excellent piece on the Double-Opt-In introduction, which as Dan Shapiro points out in the comments is an even more effective way to introduce people by making sure that they both want to be introduced – thanks, Dan, for the suggestion!

Generous, Social Networking

What can you do with 5 bucks?

Fearless Riders

There are lots of things you can do with a fiver. I’d really like you to consider donating a fiver (one day’s coffee, a bus ride, a sandwich) to support research to fight Diabetes.

I’m doing my part by riding in the Seattle Tour de Cure on May 12. I would really appreciate it if you could chip in $5 to help. The last several years I’ve raised over $3,000 for this cause, and I’d like to make the number higher.

Please go here and donate what you can today.

(Update 2: Now above $2,000! as of 5/1/12 – how high can we go?)

(Update: I’ve exceeded my original $1500 goal as of 4/26/12 – can you help boost me above $2k?)

Career, Customer Strategy, Generous, Productivity

There are 3 Parts to a Great Introduction

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/booleansplit/

What’s better (a lottery ticket, or new people whom you know)

You might have bought a lottery ticket recently (I did too, by the way.) And you didn’t win. But you can guarantee your chances of making positive connections if you do a better job at introducing your smart friends to each other. Who knows what benefits this might bring? Probably not lottery riches, but definitely the ability to help people connect.

There are three important tenets of a great introduction:

  1. Give context, both in the subject line and in the initial line of the email. If your contacts don’t know what you’re trying to do they probably won’t even read the email. I get good results by using the term “introduction” or “intro” in the subject line of the email, e.g. “intro: Bob, meet Sue. Sue, meet Bob. Making this subject line relevant helps your friends understand that you’re trying to introduce them;
  2. Give the “what’s in it for me” (WIFM) value proposition. If you tell Bob,

    “You should meet Sue S. Sue is a world-class developer and also has a knack for explaining complex problems to business people. She recently left her job to start a new thing and she’d love your input on understanding the sales cycle to enterprise organizations”All of a sudden Bob knows key things about your contact Sue and can craft a response that matches her needs. If you do the same thing for Sue to tell her about Bob, then you’ve helped her connect the dots about your other friend and you can step away and let them connect (or not connect, depending upon their preference.

  3. Introduce, and then walk away. Ideally, the people you’re going to introduce are open to the idea of meeting new business contacts; they are outgoing and want to connect; and they will follow through on the request. But that doesn’t always happen. Some of your contacts may require “pre-qualifying” – or asking them if they’re open to the idea of meeting new people; and some people may not like this process at all because it makes them feel obligated to provide favors.

Your best lottery ticket is the smart people or “loose ties” you don’t know yet.

Repeat after me: the goal is to introduce two or more smart people who might benefit more from knowing each other than they benefit not knowing each other. It’s easy – you can practice making introductions several times a week and if you’re lucky, people will start introducing you to their smart friends too.