When it comes to building a strong founding team, there isn’t a lot of gray area. As Noam Wasserman points out in The Founder’s Dilemma, in small business, “people of the same gender or race and people of similar geographic origins, educational backgrounds, and functional experiences are disproportionately likely to found companies together” ( 91). This tendency toward homogenous teams can be beneficial when growing a startup, as the founder does not have to look too far to find people with common interests. Often homogenous teams are made up of the founders inner circle of friends, friends of friends, or mutual acquaintances. Wasserman states that one of the primary benefits of building a homogenous team is that “choosing cofounders from among people with whom he or she probably has important things in common is often the quickest and easiest solution” (91). They also have other interpersonal skills already in place such as communication, trust, mutual understanding, and the common interests that allow an organization to create an identity (Wasserman, 92).
However, the short term benefits of ease and speed of homogenous teams eventually level out as the founding team begins to see overlap in their abilities, leaving gaps in the organizational structure, and requiring changes. Heterogenous teams are built around diversity in terms of background, gender, age, skills, and experiences. Differences naturally create tension as people have to take time and effort to understand and empathize with those outside of their realm of experience.
So, at start up many founders choose homogeny in order to side step the discomfort of getting to know a diverse group of people. Homogenous teams are not inherently bad, but diversity offers more positive incentives when it comes to team building, provided the team can master the art of communication.
“Teams with diverse networks are often more creative and innovative, have better access to a range of potential investors and corporate partners, and are able to tap into a wider range of potential employees” (Wasserman, 94). The old adage, “it’s not what you know, its who you know” rings true when considering the benefits of a heterogenous team. But “soft factors” as Wasserman states, such as compatibility, personality, risk tolerance, commitment level, and values can create significant friction in a heterogenous team (96).
Another sticky subject under homogenous teams is relational teams, which covers teams made up of family ties, husband and wife teams, past co-workers, and friendships. Since it appears these kinds of homogeneous teams will never go out of style, Wasserman offers ways to mitigate potential problems in these kinds of relational teams. Most of his advice centers around prompt, honest, and direct communication. But a founder must keep in mind that even though good communication can offset a world of difficulties, it cannot necessarily change the emotional component of working with relational teams. While Wasserman does not dissuade relational teams, he does point out the peril of joining a team with someone with which you have strong or lengthy emotional ties.
Moving beyond the concept of homogenous versus heterogeneous teams, whoever a founder decides to bring in must have passion. To quote the entrepreneurial powerhouse Martha Stewart,
“There is no single recipe for success, but there is one essential ingredient: passion.”
She recommends seeking out “people to work with who are brimming with talent, energy, integrity, optimism, and generosity.” If you can find that among your friends and family, coworkers or acquaintances, then by all means bring them on your team. Just make sure each person is both passionate about your vision and the job required of them to bring your vision to fruition.