Forming Your Team

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A picture shows a groups portrait of various dogs. The dogs from left to right are as follows: British Boxer, Greyhound, Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Leonberger, Chihuahua, King Charles Spaniel, Schnauzer, Yorkshire Terrier, and Schnauzer.

Source: Compassionate Eye Foundation/David Leahy/DigitalVision/via Getty Images.

Entrepreneurs are leaders and initiators of ideas and thus create new or improved products, services, or processes. However, teams are extremely important to aid entrepreneurs in the development, execution, and maintenance of a successful creation, launch, and operation of a business (Cooper & Daily, 1997). Teams, then, are made up of people with distinct roles and responsibilities. Individually, each person has strengths and expertise—creating synergy where the sum is greater than the parts. Collectively, these individuals make up a valuable extension beyond the entrepreneur(s). Team formation has important implications for entrepreneurial success (Lazar et al., 2020). This Skill has four key areas: (1) developing complementary skillsets, (2) building a company culture, (3) common pitfalls and conflict mitigation, and (4) recruiting advisors, mentors, and board management. This introduction touches on key ideas from the e-Myth, distinguishes what a team is compared to just a group, details the important role of followers, and explains the purpose and use of a team.

Revisiting the e-Myth
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There is an “entrepreneur myth” that an entrepreneur can and should do everything him- or herself. Gerber’s (1995) e-Myth concept highlights three roles that ambitious entrepreneurs try to simultaneously fulfill: the dreamer, the technician, and the manager. First is the dreamer. The dreamer is passionate and energetic with ideas, vision, and positivity. This facet of an entrepreneur is often the main trait or behavior associated with entrepreneuring—and desiring of achievement (McClelland, 1961). The dreamer role is typically best for people building, organizational growth, or sales. Next is the technician. The technician is hands-on with knowledge and dedication to the work and productivity of a business. For example, the baker who bakes, the jewelry maker who makes jewelry, or a mechanic who fixes cars. Oftentimes, because someone is good at doing something, others tell them to become an entrepreneur. However, the technician’s excitement comes from the technical “core content” and the “doing” that would provide a product, service, or process in a business setting. They know everything there is to know about the “how” of the core offering (i.e., the product or idea) of a business. Finally, the manager role is focused on operations and execution of a business including paying the bills, complying with state regulations, human resources, and logistics. Thus, because of these specializations, entrepreneurs find themselves needing to focus on one main area and creating a team to fill the other roles and to build bench strength.

Group Versus Team

So what distinguishes a group from a team? Both are typically made up of only a few people. Both have goals. A group sometimes serves the individual by providing a venue for participation. For example, in basketball or tennis, one can join a community league to build or utilize athletic skills while pursuing self-fulfillment and enjoyment. Such participation has a low-stake commitment, fluid membership, and is temporal. A team, on the other hand, is more formal. Individuals on a team may foster their skill and talent and contribute to the productive functioning of a team. Here, consider more stringent requirements to secure a spot on the team, a more formal (often contracted) commitment, and an ongoing performance cycle. Think of astronauts or a uniformed baseball team. Access is special and limited. Organizational commitment is required. The main “glue” of a team is trust, which becomes part of the performance requirement. (See Lencioni, 2002, for attention to five basic elements of a team where trust is the foundation and also includes concerns of conflict, commitment, accountability, and measurable results.)

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It is important to understand that a team also needs good followers. While individuals often have specialized responsibilities and are a “leader” in their own domain, teams work because each member is also able to be a good follower (Kelley, 1991). Being a good follower includes having a positive attitude, being willing to cooperate and complete necessary tasks asked by a project or team leader, and having shared responsibility for outcomes of work. Being a follower is not a sign of weakness. Followers also have a voice and ability to propose ideas, processes, and solutions to a team’s efforts. Good followers maintain good self-management (Kelley, 1988). Good self-management includes high competence, integrity, commitment to the organization and others, and comfort with disagreeing agreeably (Kelley, 1988). Critical thinking and level of involvement are the two criteria that combine to create five types of followers: passive, conformist, alienated, pragmatic, and effective (Kellerman, 2007; Kelley, 1988). “Self-confident followers see colleagues as allies and leaders as equals” (Kelley, 1988, para 25). Fully passive followers are those who need high supervision and high direction. Conformists are those who are engaged but also want direction and may work okay without tight supervision or reinforcement. Alienated people are often specialists who can work independently; they are reliable and highly skilled in their specialty area but do not need or want involved in high social skill settings. The most effective followers are those who are confident, think critically, and can work independently. There is a fifth and final type of follower, and those are in a middle ground in both involvement and critical thinking. These pragmatic followers are the most flexible and versatile to fill in or be a utility contributor.

The figure shows a table with two rows and two columns. The rows measure Critical Thinking: High, Independent (top row) and Low, Dependent (bottom row). The columns measure level of involvement: Inactive (left side) and Active (right side). The top left corner reads Alienated (Specialized, Non-Integrated); the top right corner reads Effective (Confident and Allies); the lower left corner reads Passive (Need Instructions); and the lower right corner reads Conformists (Yes, People).

Figure 1. Follower Effectiveness Grid
A figure shows a follower effectiveness grid.

Note: This grid illustrates the best combination desired for followers: active, independent, and high critical thinking are most effective (amalgamated from ideas from Kelley (1988) and Lussier & Achua (2016)). The mid-point in the grid would be “pragmatic” followers who are most flexible depending on team needs.

The Purpose of a Team. A team extends the capacity of an entrepreneur. As illustrated in The Timmons Model (see Figure 2), an entrepreneur or founder is at the base of the entrepreneurial adventure. Balanced atop a fulcrum is the team and then consideration of an opportunity and needed resources. A team brings together a wide range of diversity: experience, education, personal background, knowledge, skills, abilities, and acumen. This diversity represents synergy, when a combination becomes greater than the sum of the parts. A team is able to filter through opportunities, prioritize and utilize resources, and contribute to the various needed functions in entrepreneuring (e.g., R&D, creativity, accounting, finance, human resources, marketing, social media, sales, customer service, and strategic planning).

The figure shows a perfectly balanced seesaw. The fulcrum is the founder. The bubble called Team is placed directly on the fulcrum. Team extends to two bubbles in opposite directions above the seesaw: Opportunity and Resources.

Figure 2. The Vital Place of Team in Relation to an Entrepreneur
A figure shows the Timmons model.

Source: Adapted from Zacharakis et al., 2011, p. 17.

Because teamwork is so important, it is embedded in entrepreneurship education—both formal and informally—as a key component contributing to the potential success of a venture (Brooker, 2020; Clevenger, 2017; Kuckertz, 2013). Finding the best team members and cultivating an environment in which they can thrive aids an entrepreneur in executing on ideas and opportunities through to the delivery of a product, service, or process.

Further Reading
Cooney, T. M. (2005). Editorial: What is an entrepreneurial team?International Small Business Journal, 23(3), 226235.
Cooper, A. C., & Daily, C. M. (1997). Entrepreneurial teams. In D. L.Sexton & R. W.Smilor (Eds.), Entrepreneurship 2000 (pp. 127150). Upstart Publishing Co.
Harper, D. (2008). Towards a theory of entrepreneurial teams. Journal of Business Venturing, 23(6), 613626.
Lazar, M., Miron-Spektor, E., Agarwal, R., Erez, B., & Chen, G. (2020). Entrepreneurial team formation. Academy of Management Annals, 14(1), 2959.
Schjoedt, L. & Kraus, S. (2009). Entrepreneurial teams: definition and performance factors. Management Research News, 32(6), 513524.
Brooker, J. (2020). Chapter 15: Entrepreneurship. In B. C.McEwen & M. A.O’Connor (Eds.), Effective methods of teaching business education in the 21st Century (pp. 239253). National Business Association.
Clevenger, M. R. (2017). Perceptions of entrepreneurs and community: From historical roots to a contemporary kaleidoscope. In M. W.-P.Fortunato & M. R.Clevenger (Eds.), Toward entrepreneurial community development: Leaping cultural and leadership boundaries (pp. 1050). Routledge.
Cooper, A. C., & Daily, C. M. (1997). Entrepreneurial teams. In D. L.Sexton & R. W.Smilor (Eds.), Entrepreneurship 2000 (pp. 127150). Upstart Publishing Co.
Gerber, M. E. (1995). The Emyth revisited: Why most small businesses don’t work and what to do about it. Harper Collins.
Kellerman, B. (2007). What every leader needs to know about followers. Harvard Business Review, 85, 8491.
Kelley, R. E. (1988). In praise of followers. Harvard Business Review, 66(6), 142148.
Kelley, R. E. (1991). Power of followership: How to create leaders people want to follow and followers who want to lead themselves. Doubleday.
Kuckertz, A. (2013). Entrepreneurship education: Status quo and prospective developments. Journal of Entrepreneurship Education, 16, 5971.
Lazar, M., Miron-Spektor, E., Agarwal, R., Erez, B., & Chen, G. (2020). Entrepreneurial team formation. Academy of Management Annals, 14(1), 2959.
Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. Jossey-Bass.
Lussier, R. N., & Achua, C. F. (2016). Leadership: Theory, application, & skill development. Cengage Learning.
McClelland, D. C. (1961). The achieving society. D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc.