Building Winning Teams

Need some practical, yet not superficial advice about Building Winning Teams? Try the pages of High Output Management by Andy Grove.

I don’t tell you that because this book is a hot new read. In fact, although only published in 1995, the twenty years since have brought such radical innovation that in some way the book feels oddly dated. Especially given its author is a Silicon Valley pioneer and one of the most important human contributors to the high-tech tsunami.

The sole reason I read the book was due to the sheer number of times that Ben Horowitz referred to Grove and his managerial lessons in his CEO “guidebook”, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Horowitz’s book is a must read in my mind for business leaders. Grove’s book, while old in business years, is not a dusty diary but an absolute managerial clinic.

What I found invaluable, and probably timeless, are his lessons regarding recruiting, building, and managing teams for peak performance. This is both an art and a science.

Some things that stood out for me include:

  1. He recognizes how hard it is in an hour or two of interviewing to really size up a candidate’s potential to succeed. Grove stresses interview questions that probe deeply to understand the candidate’s approach to business challenges. It is the approach to the problem, not the knowledge base of the problem, that he feels is most critical.
  2. Grove has created his own index for assessing the level of mastery a report has over their tasks. He stresses this approach to allow for an evolving management style even with the same individual. Over time, Grover believes the management of an individual should vary based on development in their ability to accomplish tasks. In short, it’s okay to micro manage someone who is new to an assignment or has taken on a special assignment that is out of their usual accountability. It is actually helpful.
  3. Train. Train. Train. Grove feels strongly that training should be done by managers and there is no better ROI of a manager’s time than training. He mathematically validates this hypothesis, as you would expect a PhD to do. But in short he believes that the time taken to prepare and deliver training material by a manager has an exponential impact on the productivity of the trainees. He firmly believes managers, not outsiders, own training. Plus a robust training assignment also helps the trainer sharpen their skills.
  4. Hold regular one-on-ones with your reports. Let them set the agenda; it’s their time to seek your assistance with problems and issues. They need to happen regularly. They need to happen without fear. The 1:1 provides the best quality development time for a report and keeps the manager in touch with key issues.
  5. Hold on to the good ones. If a keeper employee wants to quit, drop everything immediately and work to find a solution to keep them. It needs to become your priority and that of your organization’s. Don’t buy their concern of having made a commitment to their new place of employment for having signed a contract, because at that point their signature is on two contracts. The one with you and the one with their new boss. One is going to be broken anyway.
  6. Conduct employee reviews that focus on how they’re contributing to future success of the business, not on the current results of the business. This is essential to ensure that employees don’t get rewarded or punished for circumstances beyond their control. This viewpoint will contribute to employees’ focus on contributing to the strategic plan issued by the business unit and not on short-term results.

In an era when too many fluff books about management are written, both Horowitz and Grove break through with realistic lessons that resonate, at least in my little world.