There was a time when we thought building a strong culture simply meant hiring the most talented programmers.
There was a time when I thought building a strong culture simply meant hiring the most talented programmers.
And I’m not alone. In an increasingly competitive tech landscape, company leaders are going to great lengths to attract “top talent.” But I’ve since learned there’s more to consider.
After a few years dealing with hotshot programmers who didn’t gel with the rest of the team, I now know that there are far more important traits to seek than “talent.” If you want to build a truly great team, focus on the individual personalities your employees introduce to your organization. The collection of those personalities, and how they individually complement or contradict one another, is the chemistry that makes or breaks your startup.
It also has a lot to do with your company’s culture. Especially in tech, where disparate teams—R&D, user experience, visual design, sales & marketing, etc.—must work together seamlessly, strong chemistry and culture are a must. In business, personality traits are often called “soft skills”—work ethic, flexibility, etc.
Here’s why you shouldn’t overlook the intangibles when building your team:
Every tech company needs coders, programmers, etc. who are good at their jobs. That’s a base requirement.
But in Silicon Valley, there’s too much focus on surface-level qualities—technical abilities listed on resumes. There are other things to consider, like interpersonal “soft” skills. The truth is, soft skills—a candidate’s ability to communicate well, for example—are incredibly important, too. And often the toughest to identify when you’re interviewing candidate after candidate.
We all like to think we’re great communicators, but in reality, a lot of us are pretty bad at it. A strong communicator is a tough-to-find asset to any company. After all, communication is crucial to building chemistry and culture.
There are too many high-potential companies chock full of high-end talent that overlooked one crucial element: the ever-important human side of business.
With teamwork, nearly anything is possible. Without teamwork, things become much more difficult.
I’ve known plenty of hotshots who look great on paper but are incredibly problematic once thrown into the mix. As a result, the team (and company) suffer because a non-team player acts as a broken link in the chain, and is a detriment to your company’s ability to work together.
It’s just like the Golden State Warriors. They’re stacked with talent, from Steph Curry to Kevin Durant to DeMarcus Cousins. But the real reason they’re so lethal is because they have great team chemistry and culture. Everyone is always on the same page. And no one is unwilling to pass the ball.
In my search for team players, above all, I look for kindness and a great attitude.
It’s true that how someone treats a waiter or cab driver speaks volumes about their character. Kind people positively influence their peers, and as a result, they’re typically good team members. Unkind people, on the other hand, typically like to work in solitude.
When you have a bunch of people trying to work on their own, avoiding teamwork at every opportunity, less work actually gets done. Disorganization ensues. And the more disorderly your teams, the more managers you need.
People who work well together solve problems on their own.
In the startup world, passion is key.
But it’s not important solely in context of your own career. A growth mindset is important, but it should apply on an organizational—not purely individual—level.
And the most valuable passionate people are passionate problem-solvers. Those with a strong desire to help their company overcome challenges. If you can find team players who are driven by overcoming challenges, you’ll be in great shape. Because you’ll be able to work toward a common goal everyone’s invested in.
I’ve found that passionate people are often universally passionate.
For example, someone with many hobbies and passions outside of work, whether that be homebrewing beer or playing classical piano, are typically also passionate at work. So I always ask people about their life passions in interviews.
Passionate people produce great results because they truly care about the work they do. And they’re excited by great end products. They’re inspired by awesome end results.
People with great attitudes win more often. That’s a fact.
You can teach a barber to program if they have the right attitude, but you can’t teach an asshole to not be an asshole. And in the same vein, a world-class person can become a world-class anything.
So it’s actually pretty simple, company leaders: Find amazing people and give them access to the right resources. Watch them—and your company—flourish.
Well, maybe it’s not that simple. To bring this full circle, you also need to make sure the amazing people you bring in all work well together. Because that will build chemistry, which will create strong culture, which will motivate and inspire your team to achieve and accomplish at the highest level possible.
At the end of the day, you’re not buying a tool when you hire a programmer or data analyst. There’s a vital human element to every hire, no matter how technical the role. This considered, it’s time we start focusing less on talent and technical skills and more on people.
Andrew has an M.S. in Computer Science from Georgia Tech University. But he prides himself over 10 years of experience working in the software industry for well-known companies such as Diebold, Tableau, Explorys, and Onshift. After years in the corporate and startup worlds as well as running his own consulting firm, Andrew realized he had to do more to improve software products and practices. From that, Skiplist was born. Skiplist is the opportunity to focus on thoughtful, quality software and change the software consulting industry.