A Different Way to Look At Group Projects – Who Makes You Successful?

Posted: May 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: posts | Tags: , , | 6 Comments »

A fruitful behavioral interview question is to ask about a time when the interviewee was working in a group and they had to deal with someone who wasn’t cutting it. I say it’s fruitful because it usually is always asked and therefore, since candidates know it’s coming, they have a thought out answer for it. The question usually attempts to get at how the person dealt with the issue – did they work with the student to resolve it, did they work with the professor, etc.

It can certainly be interesting to know how people handle themselves in difficult situations. However, I think for entrepreneurs, there is a different, more telling way to look at this theme. You want to get at what did the person learn about who makes them successful.

As I’m finding out, entrepreneurship is everything you expect from hearing about it – it’s fun and rewarding, it’s also confusing and downright tough sometimes. And it’s a constant roller coaster from good days to not so good. There’s some debate about whether you need a co-founder in this modern age of startups, but the plain truth is that it’s hard to succeed, in general, with startups and being alone doesn’t add much to your chances. I’m with Paul Graham on this one (see #6). The point of the Business Insider article is that you have slim odds of finding a co-founder that you align well with.

So, steering back on topic – figuring out who makes you successful.

In most groups in school, students are lumped together in groups, usually at random. But when it’s over, did they figure out who they worked well with any why? Did they distill that thought nugget down, so that the next time they get to pick who they’re going to work with, they know what traits they should be looking for?

Each person usually has specific types of people that they work well with. Maybe a visionary works well with an organizer. Or an organizer works well with a someone who’s very driven and motivates the team. Regardless of the specifics, I think its highly important for people to figure out who those types of people are for themselves and to do so as early as possible. Then, as you meet folks and make connections, you can seek to build relationships with those that align with the type you’d work well with.

This is a critical concept for entrepreneurs. The team is everything – it’s one of the three critical legs of the stool. If you know more concretely who you would work well with, that should go a long way towards helping you to figure out who you want to co-found a startup with.

As I started to discuss in my post on the first two steps to encouraging entrepreneurship, I think a big part of learning to be an entrepreneur is learning to be cognizant of things that most people notice, but don’t take note of or take action on. In much the same way as you need to train yourself to recognize the market “pains” that product opportunities create, you need to train yourself to note who you work best with, what personalities are most compatible. It’s almost like an entrepreneurial variation of Situational Awareness, perhaps a combination of the three levels. Regardless, being able to make those observations and and pushing to distill them down into something more actionable is key and if you can figure that out, you just increased your startup’s odds.

So, focus on who makes you successful.


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  • http://twitter.com/eantunes Emma Antunes

    there's a related thought for entrepreneurs when hiring an employee – do they save you time? Or do they take your time? Go with the one who makes more time available for what you're trying to do.

    It's related to who you work best with. Is it a deputy who complements your skills, and catches what you didn't think of? Or is it someone who thinks the same way as you?

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  • http://www.robertshedd.com Robert Shedd

    Very good point. Certainly it's reasonable to expect it to take some time to ramp employees up in the beginning (after all, they are an investment), but certainly, over time, that should even out and should create opportunities for you to tackle other priorities. Thanks for the comment!

  • http://twitter.com/jimjansen Jim Jansen

    Rob, I would add (as a flip side) … “Who do you make successful?”

    So, there is a give and take. You focus on who makes you successful, and at the same time, you try and make those who focus on you successful.

    Recommend a good book, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi (a good PA guy!).

    He takes this approach in social networking. Namely, one's view of those in one's social network should be “How can I help these folks be successful?”