By Steve Czerniak, Subject Matter Expert, SCORE of Southeast Michigan

Call it an advisory board or a leadership council, an entrepreneur needs experienced and connected businesspeople to talk to and get advice from. No entrepreneur knows everything they need to run the business. They also need help to meet goals and objectives or grow the business.

One thing's for sure: the same rules that help to form any other team apply to an advisory board or a leadership council. In their book, “The Wisdom of Teams,” Katzenbach and Smith define a team as:

"A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable.”

Forming and working in teams is a difficult thing to do. Since it is based on people working together, those people require some “care and feeding.”

Forming a team is not a laying-on-of-hands with a magical shout of “YOU ARE A TEAM!” That’s very dramatic but it does nothing to form the team.

However, it’s not impossibly difficult to form teams either.

The 7 Dimensions of a Team

The following seven dimensions hit on everything you need to form and keep a perfectly good advisory board or a leadership council:

  1. PARTICIPANTS - Who is a member? Who is the leader? Does the team have a coach? Facilitator? What are each of their responsibilities to the team? The entrepreneur is the sponsor of the team and it’s to them that the team reports.
  2. FOCUS - What is the scope of work for the team? What are the boundaries to their decision-making and influence? What are the work products and deliverables expected from the team? What inputs are required for the team to do their job?
  3. LOCATION - Where will the team operate? Where will they meet? Where will they store their resources (electronic and physical)?
  4. TIME SPAN - How long will the team operate? When are deliveries expected from them? How frequently will the team meet? 
  5. REASON - Why was the team formed?
  6. METHODS AND SKILS - What is the core process to be used by the team? What skills does the team have? What do they need? How will decisions be made?
  7. MEASUREMENT - How will the team be measured? How will team maturity be measured? How will team costs, efficiency and effectiveness be measured and reported? Is the team’s performance improving? How will they be expected to report schedule status? What about risk? What about quality?

Each of these dimensions needs to be dealt with as the team is chartered, and all during the time it is operating.

Don't Over-Complicate Things

The team needs to be limited in size. Six to ten is a good target. Recognize that the number of team communications links grows exponentially. Two team members have one link. Three team members have three links. Six have 15. Twelve have 66. One hundred senators means 4,950 (not including their staffs), 435 representatives means 94,395 links (and we wonder why they have so much trouble communicating).

Team members do not necessarily come with all the skills they need. The maturation of the team demands that they learn new skills and improve existing ones. Team development should be measured, monitored and developed.

Not everybody is meant to work in teams. Let me give you an example. We were conducting team formation training when the team leader stood up and shouted, “We already work in teams. I tell them what to do and they do it.” That’s not it.

Let me put in a good word for the use of a team coach. A team coach need not attend every team meeting, but they should be invited in often enough to gain an insight into the operations and issues of the team (maybe you could use a SCORE mentor or subject matter expert).

About the Author

Steve Czerniak retired after a successful 37-year career as a leader and innovator. The last fifteen years were a series of opportunities that honed his skills as an internal consultant and “change agent.” In retirement, he is a volunteer consultant and a SCORE Subject Matter Expert for the Southeast Michigan chapter. His personal volunteer objective is to “derive personal satisfaction from helping others, and the organizations they operate, to develop and prosper.”

Why Startups Should Form an Advisory Board or Leadership Council (and How)