How to build a Superb Team: Chemistry is Almost Everything

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Over the past 20 years of my career I’ve worked in many different arrangements; as a sole proprietor, as the manager of a small business, as a wholesale road rep out there on my own with nearly complete autonomy, as a Sales Manager, and then, right before we started ArCompany, as a sole proprietor again for a few years.

The primary lesson I’ve learned over the years is that I do not like operating alone; I get my energy from people, like all true extroverts. Although I enjoy working on some projects alone, working by myself full time drains me. That doesn’t mean that working with any team is better than working alone; I was blessed to have been part of superb teams, and also, dreadful, draining, make-your-work-life-hell teams.

Now, I’m wise enough to know the difference and understand why the experiences were so very opposite of one another. There are many components that must be in place to build a GREAT team. I’ll use ArCompany and the fabulous group Hessie Jones put together as an example of nailing it:

Because we are a social intelligence business, most of our team members have social media experience in some form, but each one of us has a very different background and skill set. To lay it out clearly:

  1. Skill set diversity:
    • Hessie Jones, our thought leader and CEO, comes out of pure marketing research, and has experience in banking and in tech.
    • Bob Jones, no relation, has old school executive experience and is a true and gifted sales person. He had no social media experience prior to ArCompany, although he has long been fascinated by technology.
    • Amy Tobin, (Yep I went 3rd person there) My experience was primarily in B2B sales and sales management prior to embracing social media in late 2008.
    • Joe Cardillo has been on social media in some form for a long time and has a wide skill set. At ArCompany he acts as our Directors of Ops. We call him our GSD guy; the one who makes sure we stay on track and organized.
    • Susan Silver is our community management expert, but she brings so much more to the table. A great writer, with SEO expertise and a psychology background, she is pushing our team and our technology partners to reach farther to understand how the words individuals use on social can help predict what they’ll be receptive to.
  2. Generational diversity: If you follow our Millennial and GenX Think Tanks, you’ll know that we push hard to understand true generational tendencies, and we do not stomach gross generalizations or generation bashing. Our team reflects that: we have one Boomer, two Gen Xers, and 2 Millennials. As Marketers it’s important that we understand different outlooks, some of them age based, and having a team that is generationally diverse makes that natural.
  1. Plain old chemistry: Hessie and I have discussed how blessed we are to have a team that has inherent chemistry, but we also created it this way with intent. What’s more, we safeguard this chemistry when we bring on new hires. It is important to us that our team is positive, forward looking and able to be honest with each other. It’s essential that we have a ‘safe place’ to brainstorm and work through ideas. I believe this is the most overlooked element of any team, but we all know: if you love your job, you’ll work harder and longer at it. Loving your team is an essential part of that.
  1. Clear delineation of duties: In any start up and most small businesses, employees have to wear many hats. However, it is incredibly important that each team player understands exactly what their responsibilities are, and what they aren’t. That way, not only do you avoid overlap and inefficiency, there are clear boundaries, and all of that helps the chemistry of the team.

As I was writing this post, my friend Karima posted an article entitled Are Brilliant Jerks Worth Keeping in Your Business that ran on AmEx Open Forum.

I jokingly made a comment: “Absolutely not, unless it is Steve Jobs.”

Honestly though, I would not have hired Steve Jobs, or at least I would have fired him after a short period. Call me an idiot, and perhaps I am one, but I come from the Richard Branson school of thought: people need to feel valued, and your people are your business in so many ways.

I understand that Steve Jobs and his tenacious intelligence is the foundation of Apple’s extraordinary success; I also know how many brilliant people walked out because they couldn’t handle the way Jobs treated employees. I’ve also worked with brilliant jerks, and in almost every case their behavior  cost the team, and often eventually cost them their job.

For me the answer is clear: find a brilliant non-jerk to be part of your team – they are out there.

Because I believe that chemistry is as important as skills and intelligence, you won’t find any brilliant jerks on our team. What we have instead is a combination of the four things I listed above that leads to the most important thing in anyone’s work life: each one of us loves getting up every day and getting to work.

Photo credit: Raymond Bryson via photopin cc.

VP of Content & Strategy at ArCompany. She has an extensive background in Sales, and focuses on generational marketing and content. With Hessie Jones she founded ArCompany's Millnnnial, GenX and Boomer Think Tanks and writes and speaks on those topics from an insights/strategy perspective.

8 thoughts on “How to build a Superb Team: Chemistry is Almost Everything

  1. Hessie Jones says:

    I love this post Amy. As we grow we need to be really ‘calculated’ about not only bringing the right talent in but also making sure we all genuinely like and respect each other. I don’t really believe in hierarchy – I mostly believe in team diversity and knowing that the collective is much greater than the sum of its parts.

    Yes there will always be egos but there also has to be a mutual respect for what each individual brings to the table, and that establishes our values. The minute we lose that respect is the minute that chemistry starts to break down.

    We have to be vigilant at maintaining what we have if we’re going to build the kind of company that we’re proud to be a part of.

  2. hessiejones says:

    I love this post Amy McCloskey Tobin. As we grow we need to be really ‘calculated’ about not only bringing the right talent in but also making sure we all genuinely like and respect each other. I don’t really believe in hierarchy – I mostly believe in team diversity and knowing that the collective is much greater than the sum of its parts. Yes there will always be egos but there also has to be a mutual respect for what each individual brings to the table, and that establishes our values. The minute we lose that respect is the minute that chemistry starts to break down. We have to be vigilant at maintaining what we have if we’re going to build the kind of company that we’re proud to be a part of.

  3. JoeCardillo says:

    hessiejones Amy McCloskey Tobin The hierarchy thing is big – I was at a talk last night where the speaker defined entrepreneurship as discovery vs. management as delivery. I’ve always admired people who build lightweight, flexible structure that empowers and helps humans to work together.
    Entrepreneurs don’t like structure, we don’t like process, because that delivery / process mindset often impedes discovery and imagination…yet clearly there has to be some structure. That balance is an art and science that very few have mastered, because the vast majority of management thinking structures are fairly useless and in fact often counterproductive to the way entrepreneurs think and act.

  4. JoeCardillo says:

    Well said Amy, for the record I wouldn’t work with Steve Jobs either. That’s a pretty big gamble and if I’m in for a large risk I’d rather bet on people who work well together and have vision….I think what people don’t realize is that while Jobs was brilliant, he was also an outlier, and those two things are not automatically correlated.

  5. AmyMccTobin says:

    JoeCardillo hessiejones Amy McCloskey Tobin Yes, hierarchy is very different than structure, right?
    We all need to be able to contribute, but there also has to be order for us to be our best.

  6. poonia_rajat says:

    NickKellet AmyMccTobin http://bit.ly/1zoTL8B #Love #never completely bought into the oddly!#Twilightkris

  7. JoeCardillo says:

    Hey AmyMccTobin, I was thinking about this post the other day, I wonder if you could share your perspective on how you think about trust…how you think about it with this team and how it’s worked over the course of your career, etc…..

  8. AmyMccTobin says:

    JoeCardillo AmyMccTobin I may be a bit ‘touchy feely’ fro some people in this aspect, but I really, truly believe that the great teams I’ve worked on were founded on trust. I was once in a very precarious divide in the road career wise – old boss had left and was trying to lure me to the new company – new boss was someone I didn’t know extremely well. BUT, the new boss was extremely honest with me about the future of my career if I stayed, with NO exaggerations or promises. 
    I stayed because of that honesty, and it proved to be the beginning of about 8 golden years in my career. He became my mentor, and I learned a lot about how great things can be done, and lots of money made, WITH ETHICS.
    Now, I also think that great brainstorming and creativity cannot happen in an environment of distrust.

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