Get The Right People On The Bus: Effective Team Building

First Who, Then What


James Collins wrote “Good To Great” in 2001, studying companies that had sustained success over time. He identified different factors that each of the varied companies in his study had in common. These included leadership styles of executives, team building strategies, response to adverse situations, clarity of purpose and execution, company discipline, usage of technology, and the use of small initiatives in moving the company forward. In particular, the team building strategy he highlighted was termed “First Who, Then What” – which he explained with a metaphor of a bus. First you decide who will be on the bus – and then you decide where to drive it. This seems counter-intuitive, perhaps; task-focused managers will first define the goal, then create a plan for achieving it. Collins explains his reasoning here:

“Who” Matters!

Tasks are executed by teams. There is no way around this! If a team has internal problems, they will not be able to execute. Problems can include clashing personalities, members who are “me-first” or selfish, people who don’t communicate effectively, or even structural issues like lack of communication channels. Who you work with is the foundation of what it is you will be doing. You can assemble a team of talented individuals, who are all the top performers in their fields, yet ultimately fail if everyone does not work together.

teamwork - all in

Effective Team Building

Of course, while knowing this is half the battle, executing it is the other half. Here are some tips to assemble a team that will execute and outperform.

  1. Look for effective communicators. When interviewing people, pay attention not just to what they say, but how they say it. Do they make themselves clear? Do they explain things simply and elegantly? When they speak, do they use metaphors, examples, or stories?
  2. Pay attention to personality types – including your own. Whether you use Myers-Briggs personality tests, or just rely on your intuition, it is imperative that the people who will be working together be able to get along and collaborate! Mixing introverts and extroverts to work on a project, for example, can lead to some team members hogging the spotlight, or even drowning out valuable insights that quieter members never get to share. Create a team entirely of extroverts, and people may clash; a team composed entirely of introverts may never gather momentum. It is essential that a team have chemistry! And that chemistry starts with the manager – you cannot lead a team, or motivate them effectively, when your personality clashes with theirs.
  3. Look at their hobbies. If you are hiring, pay attention to a candidate’s hobbies and volunteer work. Sometimes something seemingly irrelevant can be a gold mine for your team. Some hobbies speak to persistence, others to focus, others to improvisational skills, yet others to creativity. Talents that aren’t expressed in a CV can be found elsewhere, and uncovering them is the beginning to utilizing them.



pit crews - effective teamwork

“Who” matters – from interviewing to team building, to the kickoff meeting, to task assignment, the people involved in a project will be the foundation for execution and success. It starts at the beginning, and it only gets more important from there.

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