The Three Stages of Teams and How Entrepreneurs Can Use Them

The power of a well-focused team trumps everything – when combined with the agility and drive of a natural entrepreneur. Here’s how entrepreneurs use the Three Stages of Teams: Me, We and They:

When my first business was still right in start-up phase I spent an afternoon in our dining-room writing a fax to a prospect in Germany. I wrote lots of drafts and when I noticed the overflowing bin, I had a real laugh-out-loud moment. I’ve gone from big-company coddling to being marketing, finance, operations – and bin-emptier – and I love it!

This is how the first-stage of Team, the Me-stage, usually goes for entrepreneurs. You (and maybe a partner) are the team and the business.

One of my clients said it’s a bit like being a crab. You need extra arms and legs to get everything done. But you also need to be resilient and well-armoured, because life’s going to start throwing a lot of stuff at you.

At the same time, you need to be great at grabbing help. Successful entrepreneurs devour help, information and expertise – treating it like the virtual team they don’t yet have. They read like crazy, go to conferences and call on friends and experts.

The business is also like a crab in that each time you move into a new market, start to hire staff or invest in professional support, you have to shed the current shell to grow-up into the next one. It feels vulnerable, risky and exhilarating at the same time.

Eventually, you hit the next stage of Team, the We-stage. Now the business is the team.

You might not be the first-point of contact for new business or existing customers any more. But you’re still in the middle of things. In this phase the founder is like the sun at the centre of the solar system. It’s your gravity that can attract and keep the right team and the right business in orbit around you. People in the team feel your presence. When the warmth of your attention is right, things can flourish. Get too close and something will burn. Be too distant and people become icy-cold and drift off.

If we’re lucky, we get to move onto the next stage of Team, the They-stage. Now the team is the business.

This is where entrepreneurs either grow into being the leader and are no longer the driving force behind everything, or they find a way out and start again. Either is good. People who stay say it feels like being a parent. At some point you stop picking the kids up when they fall over, so they learn to get up for themselves. It takes a large amount of courage and a big commitment to future-success versus current-risk. If people can grow under your leadership they’ll be off trying out new areas of business and new ways of doing things that you would never have dreamed of.

If you get this stage right, then your reward seems to be the space and money to wonder what you ever used to do with your time before the business. Some people move onto the Who-stage of team next, but that’s a different story for another time.