What makes a great team?

I get this question a lot. We at Techstars are famous for selecting on the basis of team, market, and idea. And the one intangible/amorphous thing is team.

When it comes to this question, I lean on my military experience quite a bit. I still remember the tight teams and what intangibles made them tight, like grit, positivity, and adaptability. I have a blueprint on what makes teams stronger, like the things I did at bootcamp. And I saw bad teams and some of the signals, like selfishness, lack of purpose, and lack of focus/discipline.

I also lean on others' learnings. Paul Graham said that the most telling question for him was

Please tell us in one or two sentences about something impressive that each founder has built or achieved

And the following qualities most important:

  1. Determination
  2. Flexibility
  3. Imagination
  4. Naughtiness
  5. Friendship

Jason throws in his thoughts as well:

  1. Smart
  2. Technical
  3. Gets stuff done
  4. Resourceful
  5. Tight knit

Now, sometimes it's difficult to gauge the entire founding team. And I think it's fair to evaluate only the CEO - because oftentimes, the CEO is really a microcosm of the entire team. For individual founders, David S Rose, who I met at Florence, told me the following three are the most important to him:


I've had some thoughts based on my talk at TED on great individual founders. The key criteria I identified were a blend of optimism and realism.

My conclusion is that evaluating a great founding team is a function of evaluating a few factors using three different types of questions: scale, yes/no, and an open-ended evaluation.


So what's the key to answering the above question?

    * For the open ended question, the mission focus should be aligned to something imaginative, ambitious, and against the norm.
    * The scale question should be answered in the middle of the spectrum rather than on either ends of the spectrum.
    * For binary questions, all questions should be answered yes

The open and scale questions answer the team's imagination and having a bit of naughtiness, which is doing something different despite understanding reality. The binary questions answer the team's execution abilities.

This team evaluation framework isn't right for anyone and is open to change and feedback - let me know what you think.