Building an Exponential High-Performing Team
2 August, 2020
Director of Engineering at Workday
At the startup stage, we were constrained with limited resources and inadequate HR capabilities. However, our every hire had to be a perfect match capable of generating added value to the team. What I’ve noticed before was that most managers tend to hire people who resemble them -- they will look for potential candidates at their previous company or look for an ideal type of candidate -- and will often prioritize this over the skills or data. I found this approach to be narrow-minded and biased. What I tried to do was to build -- what I named -- an exponential team where each new person adds a different skill set and expertise, so they can exponentially contribute to the team.
I set up a hiring process guided by this principle and hiring people with different skill sets, backgrounds, knowledge, vision, and preferences. By doing so, every new person who would join our team would challenge our preexisting understanding of things, approaches, technology, organizational structure, etc. For example, if there were three Python developers adding one more would only result in the job being done faster, but if you add a Java developer that could shift the perspective of how things are done. Therefore, instead of a narrow focus, I would rather have a team with broad competencies that would enable me to try new technologies, modify processes quickly, and choose from a variety of perspectives.
One of the biggest challenges of this approach was that there was no duplicity which was a risk in itself. If a person was on sick leave or even a holiday, a gap would appear. The solution is to think about duplicating the roles as soon as you have reached a certain number of people. While it is good to have five diverse people, it is probably not a good idea to have 50 diverse people. At that point, the dissonance of their opinions could result in chaos, but at a very early stage, I would always advocate for the first 5-10 people on the team to be diverse.
Also, it would be very hard for an EM to deal with all those diverse people since it would be always much easier to manage people with the same skills, experience, and vision. However, people with different skills and backgrounds would also bring in different opinions and perspectives, and managing them would require more investment on an EM part, but the value the diversity could bring would make the investment worthwhile.
The way I would approach creating a diverse group would start with seniority and background. I would mix up senior people who were experienced but reluctant to learn and explore new things with juniors who were more enthusiastic but lacked the experience. Also, I would mix up people with a corporate background (who would replicate the rigidity of corporate procedures) with the startup people who would be all about trying new things but not much committed to keeping track and relying on metrics. I found the technology, exposure to the process and cultural competencies to be very important for creating a diverse team -- for example, local vs. global experience or a nice blend of extroverts and introverts.
- When constrained with limited resources never go with like-minded people (though that seems to be a prevalent approach) but look for diversity that can generate more added value.
- Don’t make clones from your employees. Respect their differences and understand how they can contribute to the overall enhancement of the team.
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