How gritty is your team?

Posted June 6, 2016

When the market is growing and it is easy to raise money, your business can get by with a mediocre team. The market will pull you. But when the market loses faith and capital dries up, you need a team with grit to pull you through. Or as Warren Buffet put it, “When the tide goes out, you can tell who’s been skinny dipping.”

Grit is a mixture of passion and perseverance, and it’s a powerful combination. It is what differentiates a strong business from the weak ones. Cultivating a team that knows how to be gritty is imperative, and you need to start now. When it’s smooth sailing, you need to assess your team and cultivate grit in order to prepare for the inevitable bumps ahead. If you are already in difficult waters, you need the right team to maneuver you through it: only gritty teams will succeed. In the first scenario, cultivating grit is vital. In the latter, possessing grit is mandatory.

In her insightful book “Grit,” Angela Duckworth outlines a framework to asses the grittiness of your team, and in doing so she plots a roadmap for cultivating a corporate culture that promotes grit. The qualities that promote grit are interest, practice, purpose, and hope.

Use these traits to teach your team how to be gritty or to replace weak pieces to forge a stronger team that does have these traits.

Interest. This is innate curiosity and concern for something, though it too can be cultivated. Are the members of your team interested in their craft? Sure, understanding the “why” and the big picture are important, but it is equally important to be interested in the craft itself, be it marketing or sales or engineering, and all the aspects of it—the fun planning part as well as the day to day grind. That is to say that if you are in sales, do you like to connect with people and help them even while dealing with a lot of rejection? If you are in engineering, do you inherently like the elegance of code in spite of working on someone else’s code base or a refactor? Interest for the craft itself keeps one’s mind off of what could be a distressing market and keeps your team focused on moving the company forward, which is exactly what you need in a turbulent environment.

Practice. This is the repetitive act of deliberate effort. Do you and the members of your team appreciate the (sometimes tedious) process of improving? Do you set goals that stretch your abilities? Do you look for ways to get better at what you do, test them out, measure the results, and keep at it until you master them? For example, if you are a rep, do you constantly look for ways to connect with people personally by testing your emails and call scripts, measuring results, and trying again? Each day is an opportunity to improve.

Purpose. Duckworth illustrates this trait with a parable of bricklayers:

“Three bricklayers were asked, ‘What are you doing?’ The first one says, ‘I am laying bricks.’ The second one says, ‘I am building a church.’ And the third says, ‘I am building the house of God.’ The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.”

You need to understand the kind of bricklayers you have on your team, and the type of bricklayer they want to be. Many people are drawn to the third type, but identify with the first or second type in their daily activities. Some may already be purpose driven, but as a leader, if you have not inspired your team, chances are they are just doing their job. Inspire a calling. Project a larger vision and a renewed sense of purpose. Remind your team that what you are all working on is valuable and how each person’s contribution—no matter how small—connects with the core values of your team and helps push the entire effort forward.

Hope. This one is straight forward. A Japanese proverb illustrates this simply: “Fall seven times and stand up eight.” Do you and your team take setbacks as opportunities to improve, or do setbacks discourage and defeat you? Does your team trust that it can get smarter over time if you work hard enough? Does your team believe that you can dominate your sector? Cast a vision for your team and encourage them.

Reflecting on these questions will help you assess if you and your team have the grit it takes to weather setbacks, complete goals, prevail in the market, and win it. Grit is a product of interest, practice, purpose, and hope. Unless these traits are part of your business’ culture and core values, it will be difficult for you and your team to embrace them. Take some time to reflect and assess yourself and your team and consider how you could foster a culture of grit. And then, do it! Get grittier!


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