Building Team Capability

Very short summaries of my conversations with startup Founders about Building Capability in their teams. This page is an archive of past summaries, which are shared with a closed group of Founders, once a week, through Whatsapp.


#1/ 1 Oct 2021

How can I create a learning culture so I don’t have to constantly push people to learn?

Make each team manager responsible for both hiring & training his own direct reports.

Soon, managers will start to connect the dots…”Team performance depends on team capability, which needs training… and it’s my job to arrange that”. Then, they will do what is needed.
The old centralised / HR-driven model allows line managers to disown responsibility / shift blame ; it also doesn’t scale well.


#2/ 8 Oct 2021

Outbound Facilitators, Motivational speakers, Coaches and Classroom Trainers… all claim to produce results. Which one really works?

People promote the methodology which they specialise in (quite similar to the medical field!)

From a consumer’s POV, what really works is this: Method must match the expected outcome. For example, you could want increased awareness. Or change of habits. Or new skills. The matching program will look very different in each case.

Here is a more elaborate answer to the same question:



#3/ 15 Oct 2021

Is it a good idea to have a 2-day team outing in Goa, and insert a half-day learning module in it?

If the motive is “more bang for the buck”, it doesn’t work… you get neither enough fun nor effective learning. This happens because people approach Picnics and Learning Programs with very different mindsets.

If the motive is to make Learning more engaging, that can be done via good program design. Think activities, hackathons, interactive formats, simulations etc. It doesn’t have to be clubbed with an fun outing.


#4/ 22 Oct 2021

Should I have our managers double up as trainers? Or should I hire external/professional trainers?

For your core team, choose external trainers. They will bring in fresh perspectives and the expertise which probably isn’t found anywhere in your team yet.

But for the rest of the staff, internal managers are the best trainers. More than outside perspective, staff need to know tried-n-tested ways of working, which their own managers can teach best.


#5/ 29 Oct 2021

I hired a training manager and we’re having more training programs. But I don’t see our staff’s skills improving much. Why?

A training manager is good at program logistics. But impacting learners is a different game, which involves…

  • Knowing what inputs are needed, beyond one -line descriptions
  • Designing a learning journey, right up to implementation
  • Finding out if a trainer can really deliver on promises

Further, this manager’s KPIs (like “no. of programs organised”) could also be promoting quantity over quality.


# 6/ 6 Nov 2021

Are leadership development programs for everybody? (Some of my older staff lack exposure/polish/educational qualifications)

As long as someone heads a team, their qualifications don’t matter. Instead, the trainer’s / coach’s ability matters more.

This ability has many aspects: Knowing the native language, awareness of the learner’s context, spending adequate time to understand and solve the learner’s problem, respecting the learner’s need instead of force-fitting the trainer’s own ideas.

Too often, the trainer’s inability is misinterpreted as learner’s unsuitability.


#7/ 13 Nov 2021

How do I convince my team to attend a leadership development program?

As a principle, it is not worth investing in someone’s development unless they are open to learning.

So, start by enrolling the open-minded people first and letting the results show (visibly improved performance). And then, consider it a bonus if the closed-minded people get inspired when they see this, and opt-in to the program.


#8/ 19 Nov 2021

To develop abilities of my leadership team, I tried several things… offered encouragement, training workshops, gave them motivational book. But there is no sustained change. Why?

People in your team are at various stages of the change journey. At each stage, a different input is appropriate to move them forward.

Learning Journey

An input helps only those, for whom it is appropriate. And it is irrelevant for people at other stages.

And unless you have lined up the next appropriate input, people get stuck again… they won’t move any further.

That’s why sporadic efforts to develop people produce un-sustained results.


#9/ 26 Nov 2021

I want my 7 member core team to go through a leadership development program. Should I enroll everybody together or stagger them?

Staggering is better because it reduces risk. Those who enroll later can learn do’s and don’ts from the early ones. Some examples of such transmitted lessons:

“I was irregular with my weekly meets with the coach, and lost momentum. So whatever you do, don’t postpone sessions”

“I tried to implement too many things at once, and spread myself too thin. You should focus on just 1 or 2 changes.”

Besides staggering spreads out cash flow too.


#10/ 10 Dec 2021

Me: Do you think people transform? How?

Founder: I once had a colleague who was a great performer but used to rub people the wrong way. I saw him transform into a wonderful leader of people after he worked closely with another manager who was known as a ” great people-person”.

So, the key was exposure to an alternative style, up close, and over a longish time.

#11/ 17th Dec, 2021

Me: Do you believe people do/should change, to meet organisational objectives?

Says Sourabh Varma, Founder, Marrily & Ex-CEO of Badhai:

I think they fundamentally stay the same, but there are other ways to manage difficulties which arise due to unique personalities.

I once hired a CTO whose unilateral decision making was causing friction in the core team. Replacing him meant losing a brilliant performer. Asking him to become more inclusive might have stifled his output.

To reduce team friction, we regularly organised town hall-style meets to hear concerns and explain our decisions. This way, we could get a working relationship without pressurizing the CTO to transform.

#12/ 24th Dec 2021

Me: How do you feel about a uniform company culture?

Sourabh: If I welcome a wide range of work styles, my talent pool is wider and that promotes our growth. If I ask people to conform to ‘one culture’ and hire the same kind of people, it is easier to manage. But it will constrain my startup’s growth. I prefer the first option; and I try to learn how to manage diversity in creative ways.

#13/7th Jan 2022
Me: People who you invest in, may leave soon after. How do you tackle this worry?

Founder: If I invest only in those people who are likely to stay long, it will demoralise other staff. On the other hand, if I don’t invest, I will have poorly skilled people. It’s a dilemma.

My approach is to invest in EVERYONE, and also create opportunities for them (new posts, new verticals) so they find it worthwhile to stay. Of course, for that, I have to ensure we’re constantly growing.

#14/13th Jan 2022

Q: Who should ensure that staff is always up to date on skills?

A: Short answer: Always, the Direct Supervisor. Not HR. Not the individuals themselves.

The Founder should worry ONLY about the HODs. HODs only about team leads… and so on.

Companies have tried 2 other approaches: Made either HR dept or EACH INDIVIDUAL employee responsible. Both approaches cause a disconnect between real skills needed and those picked up.


#15/21st Jan 2022

Me: What’s your approach while hiring fresh entry-level talent?

Founders Dipti & Mohan Bharatia of C-BIA: We don’t conduct technical interviews, because we find their college-level learning irrelevant to our needs and we retrain them anyway. Instead, we check for depth of involvement by quizzing them about their college projects or hobbies. Being a SaaS product company, an interest in deep diving into details is crucial for us.

#16/4th Feb 2022

Me: What’s your approach to making fresh talent productive quickly?

Dipti/Mohan: We have a 2-pronged induction. We teach them technical stuff (like product features). Also, we teach them business aspects (about customer’s business, how our work helps them so that they buy our products).

We also ask them to engage with customers quite early, while we stand ready to handle the heat if they mess up… we think it’s a necessary risk.

All this gets them productive quite fast.


#17/11th Feb 2022

Me: What do you feel about Founders investing their own time/effort in supporting new hires?

Dipti/Mohan: For small, unknown startups which can’t attract experienced talent, it’s not a choice but a necessity.

But we don’t regret it… our staff return the favour by stretching themselves during crunch times. Of course, when our firm grows, we will have a middle layer which can take on the teaching role.

BTW, when we invest time with them, it’s not just about work. For example, we’ve also helped our young staff get their financial investments in order.

#18/ 18th Feb 2022

Me: Have you noticed a link between where you hire staff from, and their performance?

Says Rohit Goel, Founder of Forest Raga, a health food brand:

In the rough and tumble world of startups, people who perform well keep slogging diligently, have realistic expectations and admit what they don’t know.

People from small towns or not-so-famous colleges have these traits.

On the contrary, our hires from top colleges weren’t prepared for the long haul;  they didn’t stick around long enough to make a difference. I think grads of these ivy-league institutions are over-rated.


#19/25th Feb 2022

Me: Speaking of the Founder’s own development… in your journey thru multiple startups, how have you changed?

Rohit Goel: In an earlier time, I would leave difficult conversations to my co-founders. It had to do with how I saw myself. My deep interest in spirituality changed that… I now see facing tough situations also as a karmic duty. It is something I must face on my journey; avoiding it will only postpone the pain. In recent times, I’ve managed to handle seemingly tough situations with optimism, generosity and even cheerfulness.

#20 / 4th Mar 2022

Me: How / Where do you find your best technical talent?

Says Abhishek Ranjan, Founder of BigZetta Systems

There is this profile of people who grew up in Tier 3 towns which lack senior schools. So they had to move to bigger towns to finish schooling. Here, they needed to rent a room, cook for themselves and study all on their own, without supervision of parents. This makes them self-driven, open to a wider variety of work and better team players. They pull themselves out of low-phases quite easily. I actively look for such profiles and have briefed our recruitment agency accordingly.




Image Credit: Photo by Cody Engel on Unsplash