People Are More Important Than Ideas


In reading the works of Jim Collins, Peter Drucker, John Maxwell and others, as well as thinking of my own experiences, I have been struck by how important it is to have the right people in the organization. Jim Collins’ notion of “First Who, Then What” reiterates the fact that people are more important than ideas. The right people are not motivated by money. Yes, of course they need to make a living, but they are motivated by something far greater, namely learning, growing and making the organization successful and exceptional. Such people always do the right thing. They like to be trusted, given responsibility and they deliver exceptional results. They hold themselves responsible to a standard much higher than anything you can possibly ask for.

When you find such people, hang on to them. They don’t come often. Work to find the right seat for them. What should you do if you are not sure of someone? Take a pass. Wait until you find the right person. Character is the most important trait that I want in a team member. Nowadays most skills can be outsourced, but not character and integrity.

If perchance you happen to get a person who does not have character on your team, hope like heck, as Warren Buffett said, that they are stupid, because otherwise the consequences will be disastrous.

“Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” – Albert Einstein

“People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” – John Wooden

Food for thought.

Verinder Syal, Author: Discover The Entrepreneur Within


A few years ago, I used Professor Goodman’s methodology and starting asking my students to develop a team contract at the outset. The teamwork has improved considerably.

Here is another anecdote from a student: “There was something about having the structure of the charter in the very beginning. We took the time to sit down together in my living room and seriously thought about what we individually wanted to get and give in the class, but more importantly, what we as a team wanted to achieve. Getting down on paper what we’d need to do to be successful solidified our sense of camaraderie and got us excited for the endless possibilities the future held.”

I recommend you develop a team contract too. RIGHT NOW!

Here is how to do it:

 To Do as Individuals

  • Think about a team that you were on that was highly successful. Write down three factors that you think made that happen.
  • Think about a team that you were on, that was a failure and a miserable experience for you. Write down three factors that you think made that happen.
  • What lessons did you learn from the above?


To Do as a Team

  • Discuss lessons learned above.
  • What things are important to the team members and the project?
  • Develop a team Charter with the following components:
  1. Lay out some things you will do and will not do.
  2. What behaviors are desirable and what are not?
  3. How will you treat each other?
  4. How will you listen to each other?
  5. We suggest no more than five guiding behaviors.

Revisit the charter every month to discuss how your team is doing. Revise as necessary.


Let me know if this helped you!

Verinder Syal, Author: Discover The Entrepreneur Within

A Circuit Breaker

team building

Will your team break down at some point? You can bet on it.

Someone will develop a penchant for being late or always have an excuse for not getting their assignment done. Another person may suck up all the oxygen in a room while the “quiet” one will rarely participate because “he prefers to listen.”

Sometimes you will need to talk to a person alone and other times it’s best to do it as a team. The circumstances will dictate which route you take. In either case, consider following these words of wisdom from John Maxwell, who writes and speaks on leadership:

  • Do it as soon as possible after the incident.
  • Speak to one issue at a time.
  • Don’t keep repeating the same thing. Do it once.
  • Avoid sarcasm.
  • Avoid words like “never” and “always.”
  • Present criticism as suggestions.
  • Don’t apologize for the confrontational meeting.
  • Don’t forget the compliments.

Once again, these are all basic courtesies that we should readily afford one another. However, in our emotional state, we are prone to forget. Have I ever repeated myself? Been sarcastic? Dredged up three lifetimes of history? Did I ever win the argument? Surely you jest.

A student shared this story: “We had been doing great work throughout the quarter, but one of our team members was constantly late. It was starting to grate on us as we felt that his lateness indicated a lack of dedication to the team and that it was hurting our efficiency. We sat down, shared our feelings and told him that we wanted everyone to do the best work possible. We were open and honest and so was he and things improved greatly from thereon.”

So, do not be afraid to use this circuit breaker when needed. You will be far more effective and less stressed.

Verinder Syal, Author: Discover The Entrepreneur Within

What Do Good Teams Look Like?


Where there is a team, there is bound to be dysfunction. And that is good to an extent. We need to get rid of fake harmony. Very simply, conflict of ideas is healthy, but a conflict of personalities is cancerous. Argue about the ideas as much as you like, but don’t demonize one another or someone’s point of view. The permission to do this comes from the trust you have built.

Since everyone has had a say and has been listened to, commitment comes more easily. People do not demand that their point of view be accepted, but they do want to be heard. Whenever people feel they have had an input into something, they feel committed to it. The outcome becomes “ours.”

With these steps, people embrace personal accountability. Even more importantly, they hold their teammates accountable for the goals that were assigned to them. Everything then is about team goals and not about me, what I did and what others did not do. Remember people do like to accomplish things and do like to be held accountable as long as everyone is being held accountable.

Not surprisingly results improve. While good results can never be guaranteed, the likelihood of better results is enhanced. More importantly, the journey becomes fun.

My good friend, Professor Adam Goodman, Director of The Center for Leadership at Northwestern University, makes several suggestions to my students as they embark on forming teams.

  • Get to know each other by spending time together.
  • Talk in person whenever possible as opposed to emailing and texting.
  • Come to the team meetings on time.
  • Come prepared having done all the homework you were supposed to do.
  • Come ready with your questions and suggestions.
  • Learn to have honest conversations, not polite ones.
  • Clearly define the tasks and roles for each member.
  • Demonstrate your commitment through small wins as opposed to trying to impress people with big things.

Does anything seem like brain surgery here? No. It is simple. It is a lot of singles and very few, if any, home runs. But why is it so hard then? The reasons lie in our impatience, which has been made worse by the onslaught of the 24/7 tools of technology. Slow down, breathe and finish what you have committed to doing, now.

Professor Goodman further counsels: speak less, listen more, ask questions, talk about mistakes and seek feedback. Understand differing perspectives; pick what is best for the team and self-reflect often. Embedded in this advice is a lifetime of wisdom.

Building a team is akin to cultivating a garden. It takes time, energy, water and a big dollop of nourishing. Every human being is both similar and different. We need to work with both ends of this spectrum to discover and unleash the richness that lies within.

Before asking others to do something, I have often found it better to set the example myself. A leader does not do what he wants to do; he does what is required to be done. I once witnessed a team that was in total disarray come together quickly, productively and joyously, when the leader took the feedback to heart and changed the way she approached the team.

Are you a leader? If so, you must lead the change.

Verinder Syal, Author: Discover The Entrepreneur Within