An alternative to setting your team up for self-destruction.
Everyone who’s done it says that hiring a great team is the hardest and most important part of building a company. Find the right people and everything else will follow, they say. Which is why sooner or later it becomes the CEO's main task and why entire companies are bought only to bulk-hire their employees.
This emphasis makes total sense. If you're lucky to have been part of a healthy team, you’ll also know intuitively how its magnifying effect feels like. Everything you create ends up being much better than you could have done alone and the process of getting work done is immensely more enjoyable and fulfilling. Working in a team feels natural and empowering.
What's surprising is that while these realizations are more or less universal, a vast majority of companies are still set up as if teams were easy to assemble and not all that valuable. This is particularly true if looking at those companies heavily covered by press and therefore taken as examples.
If not, let’s look at what could be a typical startup story on your favorite news site. It starts with two founders who've built the first version of a product and then manage to hire a great team and scale the company. The ending of the story is still unknown at this point, but one thing is already set: the team will not survive it. If the product fails, the company goes bust and the team is gone. If the company succeeds and gets sold, the team is disfigured forever. If the company succeeds and stays independent, it will try to scale that one idea that worked - in that case the initial team is likely to be diffused by boredom.
There’s a major paradox in this popular definition of success because companies built this way don’t preserve their most valuable and hardest earned asset - the team. And although there are many examples of companies not built this way, both in tech and in other spaces, they are definitely not celebrated enough.
What if instead of companies being built around an idea (of which there is no shortage), or around a founder or two (of which there is also no shortage), they were built around the team itself?
That would mean the company’s main goal is to empower its team to thrive. Not to ensure the success of a particular idea, nor to make the founders rich.
It would also mean that the subject of the work is secondary and likely to change often. Because what keeps the team together is their ambition to do great work and a belief that sticking together is the best way to do just that.
Indirectly it also means that although it’s important that everyone work on topics they like, it’s even more important that everyone get to produce quality work and enjoy the process of doing so. Which is the same as to say it's most important that everyone get to enjoy life, since work occupies such a big slice of it.
In the end, the team builds products and services but doesn't cease to exist if one of its creations fails or massively succeeds. They’ll just stick together, keep creating and have a good time.