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So You Think You Can Beat Us All By Yourself?

Posted by David Polakoff on October 19, 2011

The Windmills of My Immediate Mind

Media Business Strategies – David Polakoff

“So You Think You Can Beat Us All By Yourself?

Teamwork Advice for the Start-Up

“Attention please:  Attention. There’s been a slight change in the Tea Totallers line-up.  Catching –  Bugs Bunny; Left field – Bugs Bunny; Right field – Bugs Bunny; Pitching – Bugs Bunny; Third base – Bugs Bunny;  Center field – Bugs Bunny; First base – Bugs Bunny; Shortstop – Bugs Bunny; Second base –  Bugs Bunny.”  Bugs Bunny is a successful one man team in Baseball Bugs but unless you are a cartoon superhero, the vision of an entrepreneur can only become reality through teamwork and effective leadership.

I have been part of small and large work teams in start-ups up to large, international companies.  I have played in small and large musical groups; and I’ve been on sailboat race teams.  I’ve studied Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower; and President Kennedy’s Whiz Kids.  Through these experiences and observations, I’ve learned that a cookie cutter approach or teamwork “blueprint” does not exist.  All scenarios and all team members are different and unique, requiring adjustments for projects goals and individuals’ nuances.  There are, however, common themes to successful teamwork.

As a founder/entrepreneur you cannot execute your dream by yourself.  As the visionary, you need to assemble a team of people who are smarter than yourself so that you execute with required expertise and so that you can efficiently and effectively accomplish the mission.  Even if you can create, design, produce, market, sell, account, analyze, strategize, and protect your product/service, you cannot do it alone in the required timeframe, and there are people who can do most of these things better and faster than you.  If you are a right brained creative thinker and you are lost in this advice, be sure some of your first hires are from the left brained, logical and analytical side!  Thus, you are not only complementing your team’s strengths and productivity, but you are balancing the brainstorming and decision-making processes.  Be adaptive to viewpoints beyond your own.  Note – It is okay to mix/match staff hires with outsourced services; your team need not be an army (at first!).

Observe that I called you the “visionary” but not the “leader,” because you may not be one in the same.  I’ve worked for many smart people, but some of them could not manage their way out of a paper bag.  Yes, even a small team requires a leader; the person who has the talent to lead, and thrives in doing so.  I serve on a volunteer committee (as the leader) and someone asked me, “Do this committee even need a leader?”  I replied, “It doesn’t have to be me, but ‘yes,’ we have to have a leader.”  Without leadership there is inefficiency, disorganization, and participant inertia.  That being said, a good leader will allow others to head (and not micro-manage) their areas of expertise and/or lead certain cross-department, “sub-committee” projects.  This effort is part of a good leader’s delegation skills; it empowers others; and prepares, trains, and tests them for future leadership roles.  In start-up situations, where “all hands are on deck” and everyone “rolls up their sleeves,” having a leader will also avoid duplication of effort and contrarily the avoidance of gaps of critical requirements (“I thought you paid the electric bill?”).

“Everybody take the night off.  I’m sorry… We’ve been working 20 hour days for three and a half weeks straight.  (Sam) Go see your wife and daughter. Jo, go and do… whatever you do when you’re not here (Danny Kaffee in Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men).”  As ambitious as you are, don’t forget to give people time to remain focused, productive, and vibrant. Be sure the team members have time to themselves as well as some team building time.  Even if for a periodic hour or two, give the team a chance to bond and build rapport outside of the project’s initiative; it will do them, you, and the project a great deal of good.  Now, go have your team collectively take on Bug’s opponent, the Gashouse Gorillas!

Recap:

  • No “Army of One” – Assemble talented people, smarter than you, to execute your vision.  Trying to do it alone will be a (unsuccessful) “nice try.”

  • A Litre of Gas – It may not be you, but be sure someone on the team, in addition to their expertise, has the innate talent and ability to lead the team.

  • Share the Stake – Be sure each team member has his/her opportunity to lead an effort, so that he/she feels and acts as a critical, contributing teammate and to test/hone future leadership.

  • Share the Steak – If you ride a horse without providing rest, grain, and water, it will give out.  Be sure your team members keep the focus by also giving them a work/life balance.  Also leave time for building team rapport – provide opportunities and moments for personal engagement and fun.

Media Business Strategies is the blog/website of David Polakoff, a New York based, Media & Entertainment Industry Financial Executive.

David Polakoff’s media/entertainment industry experience and expertise results from his tenures in senior financial and development roles with Ernst & Young, HBO/Time Warner, Granada America/itv plc, and independent consulting.  Currently, David provides financial, operational, and strategic services to media/entertainment companies.  Read more in About.

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