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InfoQ Homepage Articles Successful Teams: How Leaders Build Their Tech Companies

Successful Teams: How Leaders Build Their Tech Companies


Key Takeaways

  • When building a startup, the first rule of success is managing to establish a truly great team.
  • The best employee is a problem solver, the next most valuable qualities would be innovative thinking, expertise, emotional intelligence and courage. 
  • Having a meaningful company “story” along with setting a BHAG helps your business reach its full potential.
  • Create a culture of interdependence while paying attention to the specific personality of every employee. 
  • Be the CEO who believes in the biggest goals and sets clear focus for the entire business to follow.

In the last five years I’ve gone through a BA in Sociology, Psychotherapy & a Personal Development specialization, more than I could count Entrepreneurship and Leadership trainings, a full time job at a software development company, and three startups. Flooded with information, it is hard to know what true leadership is, and to distinguish practical advice from all the clichés circulating through blog posts, conferences and courses.

From my experience, the first rule of success is the team. However, what does that truly mean? We’ve all heard it. A successful team is comprised of two main components: great leadership and a great hiring process. Simply because a person is on a certain team, it doesn’t mean they’re a teammate, or that they’ll lead you to success. You’re not going to skyrocket your business just because you’ve gathered great people with many talents and experience.


I’ve seen many people hire based on skill and experience, mainly in the corporate world. Lately, many companies claim that they hire for cultural fit, based on values and full candidate profile. Both approaches might lead to good results, like professional execution, and a friendly atmosphere, however you may be able to do better.

From my experience working in an angular development company, you need people who get the job done. The ones who go the extra mile to find a way to solve a problem, who think, who do not complain about a difficulty or come asking for guidance every step of the way. You can test that quality during the hiring process, with tasks that reveal how candidates approach a problem. 

We have a simple practice when recruiting. If during an interview, the candidate is asked a question which they can’t answer, we give them a laptop and ask them to try and find the answer right on the spot.

If the most important quality is met and you indeed have a problem solver in front of you, the next most valuable qualities would be innovative thinking, expertise, emotional intelligence and courage. 

  • You need innovative thinking as almost all tasks which can be done mechanically will be replaced by AI or machines soon. Thus, your people need to think two steps ahead and always find the best way to solve a problem. 

In the tech company I work for, we used to fill out our sick leave applications by hand and submit an online copy which took approximately 15 minutes per person/application. A coworker decided to automate the process, generating all necessary files from a quick form, reducing time spent to one minute, thus saving many human hours per year, which indirectly leads to an increase in ROI.

  • You always need to seek experts in the field you’re hiring. Previous experience in a similar position or with similar responsibilities could be of real benefit.

When we hire an office manager, they might not have extensive experience in business administration, however they might have been on the school or college council, organized events for friends and relatives, or volunteered at an NGO, gaining a lot of organizational and administrative insight. From my experience, this candidate could be as strong as someone who’s been in a similar position.

  • Emotional Intelligence is a must and is probably one of the most important qualities for a team player. You will save you team many headaches if you hire people who reflect on themselves and their actions, have good self-regulation, are motivated and have social skills. Most importantly, choose people who are empathetic and have social sensitivity.

When two of our coworkers at a startup had a disagreement, the software development process slowed down immensely and we almost missed on an opportunity to pitch in front of investors. This was due to low emotional intelligence in the team, and after undergoing coaching and hiring people who present themselves as more emotionally intelligent, no such drastic problems have occured.

  • Courage is important, as you will be able to stay on the edge of innovation only if your employees are willing to take calculated risks in order to test their ideas and follow their hunches. 

A manager from our team decided to start an AI & Machine Learning Club, where every week employees would gather and learn how to use cutting edge technologies. If the training wasn’t as good as presented, employees would’ve wasted significant time during business hours, and reduced company ROI. However, the manager leading the club did a great job and we even started offering AI & Machine Learning development services.

Also, always be on the lookout for people who have lost at something, who have failed. Those are the key players who will have the resilience to stick with you, even during the bad times, and who will be more comfortable with uncertainty. The knowledge and humbleness one gains from failing a startup, for example, could be much more useful to your company than a boosted ego from constantly succeeding. 


Once you’ve gathered the team, the work becomes even harder. I’ve seen many companies which hire great employees, but which however do not have a well-developed “story”, and thus do not reach their potential. 

First of all, you need a BHAG. No matter what, set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal; the bigger, the better. Choose one which may seem impossible at first, and make it your mission to achieve in the next five years. For example, if you’re a starting tech company, you could say you will reach Fortune 500 in the next five years. Go big or go home, like the greatest companies in the world have done:

  • Crush Adidas. (Nike, 1960s)
  • Become a $125 billion company by year 2000. (Wal-Mart, 1990)
  • Transform this company from a defense contractor into the best diversified high-technology company in the world. (Rockwell, 1995)

After you have your objective, your team will know what they are fighting for, and without a doubt, dedication levels will rise. This is a great time to communicate your values, or in other words, how you are planning to achieve your BHAG. According to IBM, 80% of employeesfelt more engaged when their work was consistent with the core values and mission of their organization. These could include integrity, transparency, responsibility, etc. and will guide you there is a crisis. And a crisis always occurs. An example of a story could be:

Our mission is to create quality software at reasonable prices, helping companies digitize and thus impact the world for the better. In the next five years we want to be the highest ranking bespoke software company in Eastern Europe. We will get there by striving for mastery, sharing knowledge, working as a team and having responsibility and integrity. 


You’ve built your team and you have your story. All you need are some final touches on your company culture, which could play a big role in your success. 

First of all, make sure that people are independent and can get the job done separately, but also that they feel good about cooperation and choose to help each other out. This will always lead to the best version of the work being done, as more than one knowledgeable person would have contributed to it. 

For example, we had an issue where a tech lead and a business development expert couldn’t work together, as both of them thought things should be done “their way”. The project was falling behind schedule and the BD wanted to implement two more features in the product, while the TL firmly said that we should only focus on fixing bugs. 

At the end of the discussion, the manager showed them they were ultimately fighting for the same goal, defined by the mission of the company. Once they had the bigger picture in mind, they started working independently and decided that the tech team would fix bugs for now and that the quality was of great importance while the business development team was coming up with great ideas on how to communicate with the client. Both added great value and the client was really impressed by both teams, giving great feedback about the company.

You also need to pay a great deal of attention to your employees’ feelings and take the time to understand feelings in general. According to the MBTI based personality test official statistics, all of Western Europe and the United States predominantly make their decisions based on feeling. Keeping this in mind will definitely help to ease communication with employees, sell to potential investors, and explain your goals to decision-makers.

And finally, you always need a strong CEO who believes in your big hairy audacious goal, and who sets a focus (for example: for the next six months we will focus on entering the UK market.; this year we will focus on gaining great Java expertise within the team, etc.). Among the more than 2,400 organizations participating in Global Leadership Forecast 2018, tech companies reported the lowest success rates for their leaders at 61%. Thus, tech companies should not underestimate leadership and always keep in mind that a leader will take the responsibility when needed, and will get the job done when the team gets scared or starts to lose faith. They will encourage mindfulness, while driving business forward. 

If you are the CEO, first you need to know yourself - know your strengths, know your weaknesses and always be open and honest about them. Know all of your teammates and address each of them individually in a way they understand. Get them all together, huddle up, hold hands, jump together and make everyone feel like the star. They need to know how valuable they are to the bigger goal and how they fit in the team. After all, according to SocialCast, 69% of employeeswould work harder if they felt their efforts were better appreciated.

The best CEO I’ve seen often went to our colleagues, even junior ones, for guidance. Not only did he make them feel greatly recognized, but he also managed to gain some good insight. About three years ago he asked junior developers about tech trends they saw and technologies they considered would make greater impact. Based on their feedback, we adapted a new framework, shifting the main technology focus of the company, and thus the company’s revenue was enhanced twice in the following years.

About the Author

Theodora Palikarska is CMO of Dreamix, a custom software development company. Experienced in Business Development, B2B marketing and Project Management. Skilled communicator with a rich background and affinity towards psychology, personal development and motivation management. Creative and energetic person who has a natural entrepreneurial spirit and NGO background. Feels inspired when being around people and doing things that have impact and meaning. Links to profiles: twitterlinkedingoogle +

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