Building Large, Effective Teams Quickly

In 2013 we found ourselves needing to build a very large team, very quickly. We started our hiring in March then built a team of roughly 100 associates throughout the year, with almost all of them being hired in a period of about five months. Despite being mostly new, these associates were able to deliver on 23 major concurrent projects throughout the year. Building a team is easy, in theory. Building an effective team can be too, if you follow the right steps. We didn’t set out to create a 10-step plan – that just happened. Here are the steps we followed:

  1. Agree on structure. What management structure will you have? What is the makeup of each team? Will your structure be flexible if you need to add/remove people, projects, etc.? Does this make sense to the company? These are just a few of the questions that need to be answered and agreed on BEFORE you start trying to hire a bunch of people. In our case we decided that we wanted to operate in an agile paradigm and determined that we wanted to execute in terms of full scrum teams. The scrum team size we agreed on was five engineers, two QA, one BA, and one manager. From there we were able to simply back into the management structure needed to support everything, then add any other supporting roles (PM, etc.).
  2. Make it top priority (for real). How many times have you heard, “I really have to hire X people by X date or X happens?” How many times is it then followed by, “I just don’t have time to interview enough people.” If hiring is a priority, make it a priority.For this effort, I went everywhere with my inbox open and watched for emails from anyone involved in the recruiting process. I responded immediately and my team talked to almost everyone – unless their resume shot them in the foot, we spoke to them. We set up a collaborative hiring wiki where we could quickly get feedback from people and make decisions. We refined a multi-tiered interview process aimed at quickly weeding out people that were clearly not a fit. I personally went through the list of potential candidates multiple times a day and sent out updates/questions to the teams to ensure we were moving forward.  This took a lot of time and effort – 40 to 50 percent of my day, often working well into the night. But it was a top priority for me, so this was ok.
  3. Talk to everyone. I told everyone that would listen that we were hiring and what we needed: recruiting firms, partners, HR, friends and family, the guy at the grocery store, anyone who reads my blog, the lady at the park while my kids played, and Twitter. I even had a few recruiters call me about jobs and I turned it around to see how they could help lead me to some people. The more people that know you have a need and what that need is, the more likely you are to get solid leads quickly.
  4. Build strong leadership team. Hand pick your managers and leaders. Good managers and leaders will help you build the team quicker but will also ensure your team is well organized and runs smoothly. Pick people that match your need and goals, not people just like you. I have a friend that always used to say, “If you have two people that always agree on everything, you have one too many people.” In my case I can relate to all the people on my direct team but they each have unique strengths in areas that I don’t.
  5. Find people that fit emotionally. If you hire eight introverts then hire an outspoken and extroverted manager, it likely won’t work. It may, however odds are against it. Once you find good people place them in teams that make the best emotional fit. Skills can be learned but personalities rarely change much.
  6. Get people to recruit for you. See #3. Once you’ve talked to these people, talk to them again. And again. And again. The more acutely aware they are of your need, the more likely they’ll send someone your way when they run across a fit.
  7. Don’t settle. It is very tempting when faced with a rapid hiring need to simply fill seats. Don’t do this. For every hire you should look at it like this: If you only had a single person you could hire and you had plenty of time, would this person make the cut? If the answer is no, don’t hire them. If you are on the fence, don’t hire them. If you do you’re just setting yourself up to terminate them down the road, which is unfair to everyone.
  8. Train, train, train. Think about training BEFORE people start – we had Madhumoy Dube (@madhumoy, working well ahead of this effort to put training in place for everyone, which we readily leveraged. We had a one-month training program with pre-recorded deep dives into key topics for people to start working on day one.
  9. Make moves. As you add more and more people, don’t be afraid to shift people around to form the strongest teams possible. This brings with it a little chaos and instability early, but positions the team for a stronger lifespan.
  10. Get rid of people. If you did go against the advice in #7 or if you simply chose someone who isn’t working out, get rid of them. Everyone has personal factors they must consider and terminating employment is never a pleasant thing. But if you know someone isn’t going to cut it, don’t drag it out. Just rip the bandage off.