A group of students walked into my office a few weeks ago. They had just completed their graduate research on some unique technology and wanted to learn how they would go about commercializing it. As I sat there in the meeting listening to them describe what they have built and how they want to take it forward, my gut instantly told me there was a tremendous opportunity in front of this team. We wrapped up the meeting with a series of tasks that they should execute on to move their project forward.
It wasn’t until later in the day when I was reflecting on this meeting and describing the opportunity to a colleague that I was finally able to put my finger on exactly what it was about this opportunity that had me so enthusiastic.
It was the team!
This team had all the energy, enthusiasm, intellectual capacity and passion for this to succeed. I was far more confident in them as a team and their ability to figure out how to succeed than I was confident in the current technology and/or market opportunity.
The right team is something that investors talk about constantly and I have had the pleasure over my career and more recently at the University to work with a large variety of teams that are going through the innovation and commercialization process.
In my observation, there are three basic types of teams: Bad teams – teams that are dysfunctional or lack basic skills or motivation; Great teams – teams that are executing well across the board; and Good teams – teams that straddle the middle between Bad & Great.
The bad teams are really easy to spot. It’s visible in their avoidance of tasks, their negative attitude and, most importantly, a lack of cohesion in the team. There is almost a veil of negative energy that these teams give off – these teams are the walking dead and should be avoided at all cost.
The great teams are also really easy to spot. The enthusiasm flows from the team as well as their passion for what they are trying to achieve. The shared communication where one person completes the story of the other, the rapid pace of movement towards a common goal and the focus on a greater purpose than profit is some of the easy earmarks of a truly great team.
The hardest team, however, to identify are the good teams… or should I say, the “good enough” teams. This is a team, which on paper, have the necessary skill set, objectives, and background to achieve what they have set out to do. However when you meet them something feels like its missing yet you can’t identify it. Perhaps there is a lack of energy in the room, the meandering from objective to objective, the subtle blaming of external factors prohibiting them from reaching their next milestone all emanate a general feeling of malaise and an expectation that this team will never really catch fire and become a great team.
The team I met a few weeks ago that got me excited about their future opportunities definitely were one of those great teams that you like to see. They may not succeed in their commercialization attempts, raising capital or beating the competition but based on what I’ve seen so far I wouldn’t bet against them!