Tag Archives: team

My first ever book review

There are a number of books which are considered to be essential reading for anyone Good to Greatrunning a business. Most of these are fairly dull and I’ve read some but not all of these because I normally prefer to read real life stories about people succeeding, or otherwise, in business. I have to admit that I often lie about the books I’ve read: Art of War… oh yeah I’ve read it (nope!), Ulysses (I did buy it, does that count?). Thankfully I’ve put at least one of these wrongs right recently and have read Good to Great, the seminal work by Jim Collins.

All I can say about this book is that if you haven’t read it, stop what you are doing (including reading this rubbish) and go and buy it. It is quite simply the best business book I’ve ever read.  To try to summarise this book is a bit of a con but I will share with you the things I liked the most about this book… first some background:

Collins and his research team looked at 1,500 companies in the US and analysed their performance. They sorted these companies into the 11 companies who consistently outperformed their competitors and the market, not just for a few years but over a long period of time. Companies like Gillette and Circuit City made the ‘Great’ list. Companies like Coca-cola and Smith Kline Beecham didn’t. Collins and his team then looked at the things that these companies have in common and explain in the book why they think these matter. There are salutary and useful lessons on more or less every page.

The key findings across all of the great companies that are captured in the book are:

  • Great companies have leaders who are humble, but driven to do what’s best for the company. Collins calls these level 5 leaders;
  • The key is to decide first who, then what: get the right people on the bus, then figure out where the bus might be going;
  • Confront the brutal truth of the situation, yet at the same time, never give up hope;
  • Be a hedgehog, not a fox: The book talks about three overlapping circles: What makes you money? What could you be best in the world at? and what lights your fire? The great companies focus on what’s inside the circles and nothing else.
  • They have a culture of discipline and stick religiously to what they are good at:
  • They use technology to accelerate growth, not as an accelerator in itself and only within the three circles of the hedgehog concept.
  • They make small, iterative changes that all build on each other like compound interest. Collins calls this the flywheel effect.

Some of the things that really stood out for me in the book where:

No-one who worked at the companies really knew what had happened or specifically when something changed. It just sort of ‘happened’;

There were no high profile, celebrity leaders at the great companies, nor where they any massive change programmes or restructures that take the focus off the prize;

The importance of momentum;

The importance of discipline, not getting distracted, sticking to what you know and executing the plan, even if the plan isn’t altogether sexy;

The importance of culture;

The fact that it’s still relevant. The book is quite old now and the obvious question is where the Google’s and Amazons of today’s world will rank but nevertheless, the fundamentals still make sense, even in a Facebook world.

Know your team… your future is in their hands!

Creating a great team is probably the biggest challenge for any entrepreneur. Getting a A-Teamgroup of people who are entrepreneurial enough to make the business grow yet can work in the same direction over a long period of time and withstand individual and collective knocks along the way is not straightforward by any measure. I don’t claim to have the answers on this but I do expect to get into some of the details of how to build a fantastic team over time with the blog.

So having a great team is a lot about knowing them, what their strengths and weaknesses are, how they fit in and what motivates them. A few years back, Harry Harpur suggested an approach to this that we use from time to time. Basically this involves deciding how best to describe the members of your team as follows:

Prisoner – these people are trapped working in your start-up. They are only here because of the pay cheque or because they are scared to leave. They hate their job and are a potentially poisonous influence on the rest of the team. They are also making themselves miserable and need some help, maybe to get out of where they are right now.

Passenger – these people are capable of a lot but for some reason aren’t delivering. They might be in their comfort zone or else they are too lazy to contribute what they can. There can be a number of reasons why people are passengers and while you can’t afford to carry anyone in a start-up, there is a chance that passengers can be re-engaged and add value.

Protester – a protestor is never happy, always questioning and regularly disagrees. My view is that having a few protesters in the team is a positive thing and avoids the dreaded ‘group think’. Where protesters start to really hurt you is when you’ve made the decision, listened to the possible risks and downsides and made a call on how to proceed and the guys are still whinging. There is simply not enough time for that in a start-up.

Player – these are the guys you need and the secret to making your team and your company a success. Players are highly motivated, hard working and self directed. They buy into the vision and know what they have to do to get there. You’ll probably have a lot of these in the early days and the trick is to a) keep them as players and avoid them burning out or getting bored and b) avoid losing them to a competitor or their own start-up. Your players may not be your most senior or experienced people. Cultivating rising stars who can be your players is really rewarding as well as sound business.

So what do you do with this? My suggestion is to plot this on a graph and decide what it says about your organisation. You’ll see one we did a while back at Learning Pool above. I think this shows a pretty good picture with a bit of work to do in certain areas.


It’s really likely you’ll have some people who are ‘near the line’. These guys are usually easy to talk to – just ask them why they are not on the other side of it and mostly they’ll figure it out themselves. If you’ve identified prisoners you should deal with this first, regardless of how much you don’t want to or how hard it’ll be. With the players – I suggest you do 2 things 1) look after them as much as you can (albeit with limited resources) and 2) stretch them as far as you can – they can do more, and the business will benefit as a result.