Building an Effective Team: 3 Tactics for Success

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Scaling Up" by Verne Harnish. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the keys to building an effective team? How should you approach new hires and current team members?

An all-star team is crucial to successfully grow your business. In Scaling Up, Verne Harnish offers three tactics for building an effective team—two for new hires and one for current employees.

Read more to learn how to build an effective team.

3 Tactics for Building an Effective Team

Harnish writes that once you’ve articulated your company’s vision and crafted the strategy to bring that vision to life, it’s time to develop your company’s most important resource: its people. Without quality people, any effort at growth will be short-lived and fizzle out before you even get started. To scale up successfully, you need to build an effective team, from senior leadership to middle management and the rank-and-file.

Building an effective team means changing both how you hire new people and how you train and motivate people already with the company.

New Hires Tactic #1: Focus on Accomplishments, Not Job Descriptions

Harnish says that when creating new positions, you should ditch the practice of writing job descriptions. Job descriptions are just what they sound like: descriptions. All they do is tell you the boxes that a person needs to tick every day to do their job. And if you focus too much on that, you’ll end up hiring people who do nothing more than tick boxes.

Instead of designing roles with specific day-to-day functions in mind, Harnish recommends designing roles in which people are asked to accomplish specific goals from year to year. Focusing on ability to deliver outcomes instead of people whose experience simply matches the job descriptions will hone the interview process and help you screen for the right kind of candidates. You’ll be better positioned to find candidates that align with your company’s vision and points of excellence.

(Shortform note: Other writers have noted that many job descriptions suffer from a common set of problems. They’re often badly out of date, because the hiring manager just uses the same job description for a given role every time it needs to be filled. They can also be written too vaguely, giving both applicants and hiring managers an unclear sense of what the duties and responsibilities, qualifications, and measures of success are for the position. To write better job descriptions that elicit responses from the kind of candidates you want to hire, make the job description-writing process a collaborative effort, seeking input from peers and colleagues, as well as the position’s direct supervisor.)

New Hires Tactic #2: Comprehensive Interview

Harnish recommends screening candidates with phone interviews and only bringing in the final five to 10 candidates. You should ask candidates to go through an entire chronological overview of their work history, pointing to specific challenges, experiences, and highlights at each of their jobs. This thorough approach, known as a “topgrading” interview, gives you far deeper insight into a candidate’s personality, temperament, character, and resiliency than a typical interview would.

Harnish argues that understanding these attributes can help you better determine if this candidate’s personality will be a good fit with your company’s culture, vision, and values. He notes that this can count for far more than someone’s measurable skills or level of experience.

Personality vs. Experience: Top Entrepreneurs Weigh In

The subject of whether to hire based primarily on experience or personality is a controversial one. Virgin Group founder Richard Branson favors hiring based on personality, emotional intelligence, and cultural fit with the company. Branson argues that, while job-specific knowledge can always be taught, the emotional or temperamental attributes that make someone a good or bad fit for a position are innate. For Branson, if someone has the wrong personality, no amount of training can overcome that.

On the other hand, Robert Herjavec, founder and CEO of the Herjavec group (and one of the judges on Shark Tank) says that a candidate’s skillset and level of focus are the most important attributes when it comes to hiring decisions. Herjavec says that an interview needs to be structured to help the interviewer distinguish between good performers and those who are merely good at presenting themselves in interviews.

Current Employees: Build the Culture Through Training

Harnish writes that, for people already with the company, building a values-driven culture of success is a crucial component of any scaling-up effort. Cultures are the sets of norms, behaviors, and values that guide day-to-day behavior. As a leader, you want to create the conditions for a culture that values innovation, risk-taking, and strategic thinking, instead of complacency and short-term thinking. Harnish writes that you need to get people to buy into your scaling-up strategy, and making the values and priorities clear to new hires when they walk through the door is a great way to start.

In addition, Harnish recommends boot camps, retreats, and regular training sessions to help reinforce this message. Even if organizing these events and paying for training costs money, it will be money well spent that will surely pay off in the long run in your efforts to build an effective team.

Use Role-Playing in Your Training

In The Ultimate Sales Machine, Chet Holmes cautions that not just any training will do. It needs to be consistent, regular, interactive, and fun. One-off annual training events where employees are simply lectured to for a few hours won’t have any lasting impact. Real skill-building, writes Holmes, comes when employees are engaged in the training and participating in shaping their experiences as they’re learning. Role-playing exercises can be great for this, helping your sales team direct their own education while working through thorny real-life scenarios.

In fact, some firms make role-play training itself a regular part of company culture. In Peak, Anders Ericsson offers up the example of Blue Bunny Ice Cream. This company used its regular meetings between regional sales managers and the senior sales managers to stage role-playing exercises, in which the regional sales manager practices making their pitch to a customer and receives feedback on their approach. Ericsson writes that this not only helps refine the skills needed for the next call with a customer, but it also gets everyone in the company used to the idea of practicing and training itself—because it just becomes a normal part of the business day.

Building an effective team is an indispensable part of scaling up your business. Implement these tactics to cultivate that growth.

Building an Effective Team: 3 Tactics for Success

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Verne Harnish's "Scaling Up" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Scaling Up summary:

  • Advice on how to guide your company as it grows from a small company to a large firm
  • Why founders need to eventually give up some of their input and power
  • How to build an all-star team—from senior leadership to rank-and-file

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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