How to Create a Minimal Viable Team (MVT)

Alexis Robin
by Alexis Robin 17 Jun, 2016

If you've spent any time in the Silicon Valley over the last 10 years, MVP means more to you than most valuable player. MVP is a minimal viable product, the first version of a product or service that can be launched by a startup. The MVP is often the core focus of a start up at the expense of everything else.   


Some startups "get married in a fever" as the Johnny Cash song goes.  Someone has a great idea, they bring in a friend or colleague, and it's all hot and passionate and steamy for the first bit. Ideas and dreams are growing, MVPs are taking shape, and weekly technology sprints and the promise of seed funding are driving urgency. And then much like marriages entered into in a fever, after weeks or months of tireless hours and sweat equity, the passion begins to fade. It's at this moment that people issues can begin to surface. Value conflicts between founders and equity partners can start to surface as culture begins to form. Communication challenges can stunt sprints and turn off venture capitalists (VCs). Suddenly your MVP is no longer enough to keep your organization moving in the right direction.


What startups need to be thinking about is how to create a MVT, a minimal viable team. A team that can handle the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment that is so familiar to the startup culture.  


To create an MVT, you'll want to cultivate the following things: clear vision and purpose, good communication, shared values, diverse strengths, individual capacity in self-awareness.



Clear Vision and Purpose


As the Co-founder or CEO of your startup, have you painted a clear vision of what you hope to achieve with your great idea?  Clear vision, and I mean crystal clear vision, is a key lever in inspiring your team to keep working hard when the initial excitement dwindles. As important as your vision is your why.  Simon Sinek is famous for saying "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it" in his TED talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action in 2009. This is as true for your customer's as it is for your team, especially if you aren't paying your team well (if at all).



Good Communication   


Good communication is the ultimate vitamin. Create good communication by laying the foundations for healthy conflict. Reward your team members for asking difficult questions. Create guiding principles around the culture of communication you want to create. An example of a guiding principle in our coaching firm coined by our CEO, Gretchen Pisano is "Every problem is a frustrated opportunity trying to show itself." When problems come up, we immediately look for the opportunity versus dwelling on the problem. Ask for what you want versus what you don't want. Create an environment where sharing good news is valued. Try this magic phrase when someone upsets you, "It makes me feel ____________(insert negative emotion) when you ____________ (insert upsetting behavior). I'm sure that wasn't your intention  but it's how it made me feel."  When you can communicate effectively, you can navigate challenges more quickly and get back to that next sprint.   



Shared Values


Values are the things you hold in high moral regard. Is integrity important to you? What about fairness, kindness, bravery or prudence? Maybe it's creativity or optimism. There will come a time when you need to make a decision that's complex and difficult about the future of your startup. If you have shared values on the team, it will be easier to decide which path to take. "Values also known as character strengths are the bedrock of resilience and provide courage and conviction to show up when giving/ receiving tough feedback, managing conflict and making the tough calls." 



Diverse Strengths


It's typical to hire people on that are like-minded and are like us. If you are a small startup, having a diverse group of strengths will ensure you have all sides of a challenge or opportunity covered. If you are a strategic futuristic thinker, finding a co-founder or project manager who is a strong executor or influencer will be helpful. If you are a highly skilled engineer who hates small talk, bringing on people with relationship strengths can help flank your task oriented style. Don't go just on what people tell you about themselves in an interview; use a research based tool like Gallup Strengthsfinder assessment to identify potential talent's strengths.





Nothing says fund me like a CEO or founder with high self-awareness. Self-awareness will help keep you in an outcome-focused state versus a reactive state. It can also help you adjust your pitch if an investor isn't responding and it will aide you in seeing how and where you are getting in the way of your own success.  


"When you acknowledge what you have yet to learn, you're modeling that in your organization it's okay to admit you don't have all the answers, to make mistakes and most importantly, to ask for help. These are all characteristics of an organization that is constantly learning and springboards to innovation and agility -- two hallmarks of high performing organizations" reports Chris Mussellwhite in a leadership article in Inc.


If building a great team feels overwhelming, consider bringing in some coaching for your team's personal and professional development. The first product idea you have won't always pan out but if you've invested in developing your team along side of your product you'll be better positioned to pivot and move on to the next iteration of your idea.