Managing a project team, business department or the entire company is one of the most difficult challenges which we encounter during our journey known as career development. At the same time, we have to combine targets expressed via hard company efficiency indicators with the individual objectives of team members. While observing organisations, successful or not, we can see some correlation which determines these two states of affairs. From the management point of view, the closest thing to corporations are spin-off type companies, where a newly-established company has organisational and financial independence from the parent company, however, the managerial staff often come from the parent company. It can also be said that the project team, established in order to develop a new product or solution, constitutes a substitute of a newly-established company. The obvious difference is the safety and comfort zone, based on actions and the ability to use common resources of the parent company.
Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.
Warren G Bennis
In the case of start-up companies, however, it often resembles a rollercoaster ride, where the previously known rules of team management often do not bring the desired effect, and the systems available are too extensive for a company in the early stages of development, with just a handful of employees.
Growth Patterns of Start-up
A start-up is also an enterprise focused on growth. Paul Graham, an investor and co-creator of one of the most recognised business incubators, called Y Combinator, under whose wings companies such as Dropbox,
Airbnb, Stripe or Reddit achieved their growth, claims that "a start-up is a company designed to grow fast. If it is simply newly-established, it does not make it a start-up".
Table 1. Growth pace — weekly to annual correlation
Source: Own compilation.
Weekly growth in %
Annual growth 0%
Elaborating further on Graham's example, the table above shows that a company growing by 1% a week will only grow 1.7 times annually, while a company growing by 5% a week will grow over twelvefold. When transferring the values to absolute figures we see that a company generating income at the level of USD 1000 per month and growing by 1% per week (1.7x year after year) after four years will generate income at the level of USD 7900. Meanwhile, a start-up growing at the level of 5% weekly within 4 years will achieve monthly income at the level of USD 25 000 000 — the difference is enormous. In order to reach this level, the first company will need 19 years of stable growth, which is very rare in the modern technologies sector'. This example shows the scale of the
challenges which need to be faced by a person who is to manage a team in a company at early stages of development. 1
A Team Who Works Well Together
Establishing a team, in its initial phase, requires appropriate selection of its members. Think that you need a team who works well together to score the same goals in order to achieve a set outcome. You do not need typical mercenaries interested only in performing work aimed at achieving a previously-defined specific effect, which at early stages of development is a product or service with exact specifications. Even if you are convinced about your infallibility as the idea originator, your co-workers should be involved in delivering an innovative solution of a good quality. They should be able and willing to make remarks, adjustments, and improvements where they see fit when compared to the original concept. It does not mean that everything should be allowed by default, but that a free and unlimited exchange of ideas should be possible based on mutual respect and trust. If you want to be prepared for "black swans"2 or be the creator of them, you need people around who will be able, on the basis of their competencies, to question and raise concerns in regard to the project assumptions, rather than simply agree with everything in a conformist manner at every stage of the project. An engaged team, focused on the target, can reduce the time to its completion while maintaining quality and the required level of innovation. They can make the product better and more adjusted to the expectations of the customer.
It is worth establishing the foundations for the so-called future "organisational culture" from the start. The creator of this term is Elliott Jaques, who defined it as follows: "a customary and traditional manner of thinking and acting, shared to a lesser or higher degree by all members, which new members have to learn and at least partially accept so that they can be accepted in the company themselves"3. Let us remember
that a customary and traditional manner of thinking in an organisation can be understood as continuity of the innovation process and constant changes. This allows us to see this definition as timeless.
A simple management model which can work very well during an organisation's early development stages is the Action Centred Leadership (ACL) proposed by John Adair4 (Figure 1). This model assumes existence of three areas with a common part, consisting of:
management of the needs of the team,
management of the needs of the individual.
Figure 1. Action Centred Leadership proposed by John Adair
Achievement of company targets is placed on top, as it is only thanks to those targets that the existence of human teams is required. A company cannot function without reaching its targets. The manager's role is to look after the needs of the team and the individual in order to ensure efficient fulfilment of tasks and targets set.
Achievement of targets and fulfilment of tasks are related to the manager taking the following actions:
defining clear measurable targets and tasks for the team;
defining and understanding the indicators used in the context of target achievement;
monitoring and reporting on the progress of tasks in a quantifiable manner (measures, standards, parameters);
determination of the principles of delegating tasks and scopes of responsibility to team members;
managing changes while fulfilling tasks.
Managing the needs of the team involves:
determination of the principles of collaboration, behaviours, communication standards;
looking after the team morale, development of its members and effective collaboration;
building team maturity, moving towards a self-governing body;
rewarding the team.
Managing and supporting individual development entails:
identifying the strong and weak points of team members;
understanding individual needs, objectives, fears, and motivations thanks to 1 to 1 meetings;
supporting development by planning training and career paths (if possible and practical at the given organisation development stage);
rewarding the individual;
reinforcing the bonds with [in] the team.
Regardless of where we take inspiration from, certain foundations are timeless and their use always brings positive effects. In my opinion, they include:
free and open two-way communication which helps build trust in the team, as well as the efficiency and innovativeness of the organisation. Communication has to be open and based on respecting individual opinions and autonomy, it cannot breach the private sphere;
sharing knowledge, experience, best-known practices, joint analysis of the causes of failures and successes;
implementing an incentive system which allows for both financial gratification and increase of competences by participation in training and business conferences. The possibility of future promotions, taking leadership or converting the effects of the work into shares in the company are also significant;
the leader or manager (it can often be the same person) should develop the skill to listen and to praise the results of work and progress in professional development. The manager's duties also include getting to know their team and constituting its integral part, as well as knowing the strong and weak points of individual persons;
we must remember that, these days, the success of an organisation means team success and not individual success — communicating this point in an efficient way, as well as showing empathy, are important characteristics of any team leader;
familiarising the employees with the current situation of the company, its development plans and strategies;
respecting the rules and values in place at the company which constitute the foundations of its future corporate order and organisational culture.
Any kinds of theories or good practices should be applied as needed and dynamically adjusted to the organisation, in particular, to its level of maturity, taking into consideration the development stage expressed by the number of employees, clients, partners. The use of agile methodologies in the context of project teams will create a refreshing effect and allow for knowledge and ideas to be exchanged. An unlimited flow of information at the company not only improves organisational efficiency but also carries information and change. Change, in turn, together with fast adjustment to the needs, are the foundations on which we can build our competitive advantage. Achieving the economies of scale effect and a fast-growing team is a challenge which has to be faced by any successful organisation manager. Let us remember that, these days, it is the intellectual value and an efficient team of people who work together well, and are motivated to achieve their targets, that are the main factors of success. Without them, failure is only a matter of time.