Why Pixar, Netflix, and Others Succeed Where Most Fail

Build an Extreme Team

 

Teambuilding.

It seems easy enough. Hire talented people who are motivated to achieve something and together the team is formed.

What could go wrong?

Most of us who have been in leadership positions realize that building a team is far more difficult than hiring talented individuals.

It’s a process. From understanding individual styles to improving communication, it’s a constant effort.

That’s why nearly every leader I know is constantly working on the team.

One of the experts I follow is Robert Bruce Shaw. He’s a management consultant focused on leadership effectiveness. He has a doctorate in organizational behavior from Yale University and has written numerous books and articles.

He’s also an expert on teams and has a new book out: Extreme Teams: Why Pixar, Airbnb, and Other Cutting-Edge Companies Succeed Where Most Fail. After I read his new book, I asked him to share some of his research with us on teams.

 

“Extreme teams realize that tension and conflict are essential to achieving their goals.” -Robert Bruce Shaw

 

Elements of a Highly Successful Team

What are some of the elements of a highly successful team?

I assess a team’s success on two dimensions.  First, does the team deliver the results expected of it by its customers and stakeholders (in most cases, more senior levels of management within a company).  Does it deliver results in a manner that builds its capabilities in order to deliver results as well into the future?  Second, does the team build positive relationships among its members as well as with other groups?  This is required to sustain the trust needed for a team to work in a productive manner over time.  These are the two team imperatives:  deliver results and build relationships.

 

What’s an extreme team?

Teams that continually push for better results and relationships are what I call extreme teams.  Most teams work in a manner that emphasizes either results or relationships – and fail to develop each as an important outcome.  In addition, some teams settle for easy compromises in each area in striving to avoid the risk and conflict that can come when pushing hard in either area.  For example, a team that pushes hard on results can strain relationships.  Or, a team that values only relationships can erode its ability to deliver results.  Extreme Teams push results and relationships to the edge of being dysfunctional – and then effectively manage the challenge of doing so.

 

“Results + Relationships = Team Success.” -Robert Bruce Shaw

 

Foster An Extreme Team Culture

How do leaders help foster a culture where extreme teams thrive?

My book examines five practices of cutting-edge firms that support extreme teams.  These firms are unique in how they operate but do share some common practices.  I will mention three of these success practices:

1) They have a purpose that results in highly engaged team members.  This purpose involves the work itself but also includes having a positive impact on society.  Pixar, for example, attracts people who are passionate about making animated films that emotionally touch people.  Patagonia attracts people who love the outdoors and want to do everything they can to protect the environment.

2) They select and promote people who embody their core values.  Cultural fit becomes more important than an impressive resume.  Alibaba looks for people who fit its highly entrepreneurial culture.  The firm’s founder, Jack Ma, describes this as finding the right people not the best people.

3) They create a “hard/soft” culture that works against complacency.  In extreme teams, people realize that they need to be uncomfortable at times if they are to produce the best results.  This need is balanced against the need for people to feel they are part of community that supports them and their success.  Each firm I profile in the book does this to a different degree and with different practices.  Each, however, is more transparent and direct than conventional teams.

 

“Cutting edge firms have a critical mass of obsessive people and teams.” -Robert Bruce Shaw

 

Deciding what not to do is an important challenge. What do the best teams do to focus?

The Ultimate Start-Up Guide

Hard Won Advice from Venture Capitalists

Many of us love to read stories of the beginnings of Apple or Facebook. We imagine what those early days were like and what it would be like to be a part of a small startup that skyrockets to success.

But, of course, statistically most startups fail. Studies show 90% fail in the first two years.

That’s sobering.

 

Why do so many startups fail?

What can the successful ones teach us?

Is there a blueprint for startup success?

 

Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent founded Crowded Ocean, Silicon Valley’s top marketing firm for startups. They have years of experience working with some of the Valley’s most successful firms. Their new book, The Ultimate Start-Up Guide: Marketing Lessons, War Stories, and Hard-Won Advice from Leading Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors, is packed with the wisdom of their experience working with numerous startups. I recently spoke with them about what makes a successful venture.

 

“Start-ups fail because of lack of execution.” -Charles Beeler

 

Why Start-Ups Fail

Everyone reads about how many startups fail. What are a few of the reasons?

Dog design. According to a recent study of 101 failed startups, 42% cited ‘no market need’ as the reason they failed. In other words, they created their product ‘because they could,’ not because of any perceived market need.

ultimatestartupguidenew2Running out of money.  Obvious but it happens more often than you’d think. Because of parsimony (giving away as little of the company as possible) or optimism (I’ve never missed a deadline in my life), first-time CEOs work from budgets and schedules that assume that everything will go right. It usually doesn’t—and so the founders fold shop.

‘Camel Design.’  If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, a camel product is one where the founders listened to too many people, didn’t trust their initial instincts, and built a product that is a little of everything and compelling to no one.

A single, dictatorial founder. It’s one thing to have a strong vision. It’s another to refuse to tolerate questions or input about that vision, especially when that input comes not just from employees but from the market. One way to track how much of a martinet you’re being is by tracking employee retention:  this may be your first rodeo as CEO, but most startup employees are on their third or fourth.

Underestimating the competition.  Sometimes it’s hubris; other times it’s just not enough time. Either way, most startups don’t respect—or keep an eye on—the competition the way they should.  Give the competition their due:  The analysts who cover your market—and who have probably had nice things to say about the competition—don’t want to look like they’re stupid. Same for the prospects who either own or are considering the competition. So keep your derisive comments to yourself.

 

“Data driven marketing is…one of the best investments an early-stage start-up can make.” -Moe Kermani

 

Translate Failure into Success

How can past failures translate to a positive experience?

It all starts with humility and honesty. Virtually every team has one or more scars from failed past ventures. The key is to admit it to other key team members and then use the lessons learned to avoid making the same mistake a second time. The other element is pattern recognition:  If you can use your past failures to recognize a mistake in its early stages (say, a bad hire), you can take corrective action before the mistake takes root and does damage.

 

“Less is more. If you think you have focus, focus some more.” -Jishnu Bhattacharjee

 

Why Diversity is Important

I love this. Many people think diversity is for more mature businesses, yet you argue otherwise. Why is diversity important for startups? 

Diversity of multiple types is healthy and invigorating for startups, not only to build a strong culture but to build better businesses. All the survey data shows that diverse teams make better decisions and improve profitability. So, just like startups benefit by being able to start fresh at the whiteboard to design a better product or service, we believe startups should try to build in diversity from their founding. We encourage startup founders to focus not only on gender and ethnic diversity, but also to consider hiring staff who bring both big-company and small-company backgrounds and to consider embracing the oddballs and misfits who represent “disruptive” thinkers. When tech titans like Apple, Google, and Salesforce have heads of HR and cross-functional teams chartered to lead diversity initiatives, you know diversity is a big deal, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it translates into better businesses.

 

“You never really know what the market really is until you go to market.” -Pete Sonsini

 

What is post-launch depression? How do you guard against it? 

Turning Failure Into Success

Use Failure to Your Advantage

 

“Failure is not meant to be final and fatal.” –Jon Gordon

 

Success. Most of us seek it. Many of us study it. All of us want it.

The definition may vary from expert to expert, but our culture is obsessed with it.

 

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” –Truman Capote

 

Rarely, if ever, is success possible without failure. It’s part of the process. A failed play does not determine the game’s ending score.

No matter the definition, most of the people I have met who are successful in any field have failed. Usually many times. Some may fail publicly. Some may fail magnificently. Still others mask their failures or let them go unnoticed on the way to a goal. Many keep at it until what was a failure ends up a success, making the fail inconsequential.

 

“Failure is temporary, but defeat is permanent.” -Tom Panaggio

 

Embracing failure is not easy for most of us, but when we fail, it’s comforting to know that others have overcome much worse before us.

Here’s an infographic on failure that shares some famous fails:

 

“The greatest failure of all is never failing at all.” –Skip Prichard

 

Failure

 

 

Put the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work for You

Disrupt Yourself

Companies think about it all the time. Innovation. A new idea, one that will catapult the organization to the top.

Individuals don’t always think about the power of disruption and innovation to reinvent themselves in the same way.

 

“Disrupting yourself is critical to avoiding stagnation.” -Whitney Johnson

 

Whitney Johnson is one of the world’s leading management thinkers and is a former an award-winning Wall Street equity analyst. Whitney’s latest book, Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disrupt Innovation to Work, is all about putting the power of disruptive innovation to work on you.

If you want to be mediocre, this is not the book for you. But, if you’re daring, put the power of disruptive innovation to work on your own career.

Whitney recently shared with me some of the highlights from her book and research:

 

7 Variables to Mastery

 

7 Variables to Mastery

1: Take the right risks

2: Play to your distinctive strengths

3: Embrace constraints

4: Battle entitlement

5: Step back to grow

6: Give failure its due

7: Be discovery driven

 

 

You’ve identified 7 variables to move from gaining competence, confidence, and finally, mastery.  Is there one that most people struggle with?

One of the hardest is entitlement, the belief that ‘I exist therefore I am entitled’.  Sadly, I see it in myself all the time.  It comes in many guises, like cultural entitlement.  We all need to feel that we belong.  A sense of belonging gives us the confidence we need to try something new.  But as we begin to see the fruits of taking the right kinds of risks and playing to our strengths, it’s easy to start believing ‘this is the way things should and will always be’.  The nanosecond we start believing this, we stop learning.  So that right when you are feeling the most competent, and have the confidence to try something new, you begin to stagnate, potentially even backsliding.  If you want to enjoy the hypergrowth of disruption, of moving forward not back, battle entitlement.

Copyright Whitney Johnson. Used by permission. Copyright Whitney Johnson. Used by permission.


Identify Your Distinctive Strengths

I have always been a fan of working on strengths. How do you identify your distinctive strengths?

It’s easy to identify your distinctive strengths, after the fact, because they are what make you a fish out of water.  It’s figuring out your strengths in the first place.  So here’s a clue:  What compliment do you habitually dismiss?  You’ve heard it so many times that you are bored.  Or you wonder why they are complimenting you because it is as natural as breathing. Malcolm Forbes said, “People tend to undervalue what they are, and overvalue what they aren’t.” Take note of that compliment.  It’s likely a strength.  Then find ways to apply or use that strength where others are not.

 

“A distinctive strength is something that you do well that others within your sphere don’t.” -Whitney Johnson

 

Like Jayne Juvan, a partner at a law firm in Cleveland.  As a third year associate, she started blogging. There was some political flak.  Law firms tend to be conservative.  The partners didn’t see the opportunity.  But she didn’t back off.  Good thing. When the economy came crashing down in 2007, she sidestepped layoffs because she’d landed clients on social media.  She also had a compelling case to make when she was up for partner.  Learning the law was her pay-to-play skill, social media her distinctive strength.

 

“Beware the undertow of the status quo.” -Whitney Johnson

 

When to Make Your Move

How Belief Writes Your Leadership Story

This is a guest post by Bill Blankschaen, author of A Story Worth Telling just released from Abingdon Press. A writer, speaker, and content strategist, he blogs at Patheos and Faithwalkers where he helps people live an authentic life. Follow him on Twitter.

Belief is the Key Ingredient

Every day you lead, you are writing a story. You don’t have to be a writer or even put pen to paper to make it a good one. But you do need one key ingredient: belief.

Regardless of your beliefs about spiritual matters, your leadership legacy will be determined by your faith. By faith I don’t mean going to church or engaging in religious rituals, as important as those practices may or may not be to us. I simply mean doing what we believe to be true, often in spite of what we see, sense, or feel.

????????????????????????????????????What we believe to be true determines what we do. And what we do is what gets results. Our motion reveals our devotion to what we believe to be true.

The entrepreneur who launches a new business believes in the product or service the new venture will provide. The CEO who initiates change believes she knows where the market is headed and how the company can best prepare to capitalize on it. The individual who steps away from a comfortable career to tackle a new challenge does so because he believes a better story is possible.

If we want lasting results from our leadership — results that get talked about long after we’re gone — we must start with understanding how what we believe to be true writes our leadership story.

 

“Your leadership legacy will be determined by your faith.” -Bill Blankschaen

 

6 Critical Things Belief Does for Our Leadership

1. Belief gives clarity to our mission.

My new book, A Story Worth Telling: Your Field Guide to Living an Authentic Life, shares several stories of ordinary people who stepped out to fulfill their dreams because they believed it was the right thing to do. They believed their story could have value, so they began a quest to achieve a specific end. When we know what we value, we find our way toward it. Roy Disney, a man who knew a thing or two about making tough decisions, said, “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” -Roy Disney

 

2. Belief gives direction to our team.

The direction derived from belief doesn’t only help us as individuals, it also guides everyone we influence. As Jack Trout said, “At the end of the day, people follow those who know where they’re going.” If you don’t know what you believe to be true, you’ll tend to drift wherever other forces take you. Drifting never inspired anyone to do anything but walk away. However, what you believe to be true will have consequences for your team — so choose wisely.

“At the end of the day, people follow those who know where they’re going.” -Jack Trout

 

3. Belief inspires us to act courageously.