NOTE: This blog is the first post of a two-part series that focuses on the best practices for building and leading high-performing “core” teams. Please visit the December 2021 DISQOTECH blog for part two on the best practices for leading “core” teams.

What is a core team and a core team member?

Recently, you may have heard of the terms “core team” and “core team member” as a way to develop and manage productive teams. Essentially, “core team member” is used to designate certain team members as crucial to the team’s overall success. Other similar labels may include “key player,” “team player,” etc., but they all refer to this same concept of differentiating certain team members as core/crucial relative to mission and goals of the team.

While designating core team members has become a common practice in today’s tech startup environments, there is an opportunity to take the concept further with the goal of enhanced productivity. Having a team that consists only of “core team members” boosts focus, efficiency, and productivity and is an idea management should consider.

This article covers the best practices for team development with core team members and what kinds of core team members to hire.

Principles of Building a Core Team.

Hiring “core” team members: the secret recipe

Forming a new team from scratch requires a lot of forethought and sets the pace for the entire team structure moving forward. For this reason, it’s critical to plan ahead and consider all of the factors that will affect the team’s performance near- and longer-term, and subsequently hire team members who align with those factors.

Before hiring the first core team member, it’s necessary to draft a preliminary understanding of the team’s mission and to model various paths that the team may use to scale in the future. The following are pointers to consider while developing and defining your team’s mission and goals:

  • Team mission - can be derived from the company’s mission, the specific objectives outlined for the team and/or the purpose of the product you’re delivering to your customers.
  • Short-term goals - can be selected from the team’s mission and the company’s OKRs.
  • Long-term goals - can be derived from the company’s vision and the company’s OKRs.
  • Planning for scale - understanding how big the team may need to grow can be defined from the company’s mission.
  • Tech stack - a good understanding of the marketplace opportunity and the hoped-for scale of the products built by the team will help to define the requirements for the technology stack needed to meet that ambition, and it will help you to make the right choices, including keeping a focus on the continuous modernity of the technologies deployed.

Once the team’s mission, product scaling objectives, and starting required technologies are defined, it is easier to understand the types of team members that are needed to achieve your goals.

Hiring the first core team member

The next step in team development includes writing job descriptions and selecting the first core team member based on your needs. When writing job descriptions, think of and prioritize your organization’s values. Outline traits that align with those values. Also, outline the experiences and capabilities that will be necessary to make the team member successful in their functional performance. Work to make sure all of these things combine such that the role is relevant in the talent marketplace and attractive to the most promising candidates. The secret recipe for success in growing your high-performing team is to ensure that this first hire shares your values and agrees with the approaches you have charted.

Remember to take the time to ask yourself important questions that investigate the types of team members that are needed and why they would want to be a part of this particular team.

Forming a “core” team

So you have hired your first core team member… great! What comes next?

Managers should ensure that the first new core team member is enthusiastically inspired by the team’s values and ambitions. Then, equip this team member to be ready and able to do the same for other candidates.

Once you do this, you’ll have a team member who can help you hire and select more team members to continue building the core team. This shared enthusiasm for a common purpose is a key to attracting and retaining core team members, and ultimately to being successful in reaching the team’s defined goals.

Every team should aim to have core team members that hire, train, and onboard new team members.

Principles of Building a Core Team.

Once the first few team members are hired and onboarded with the team’s vision and goals, the team should be self-driven. Also, hiring more core team members should be easier because great talent and great culture attract the best of the best.

During this phase, it is essential to create an environment where the first core team members feel responsible for recruiting and for establishing an onboarding strategy that contains all of the necessary touchpoints and action steps for new team members to be successful. Onboarding activities for new members should include learning the team’s mission, objectives, tech stack, and business principles. Team members are responsible for sharing the company’s and team’s cultures with new hires and for helping new hires get started with the tech stack that the team.

These points will help new hires understand the team, the product, the team’s platforms and processes for development and plans for scaling for the future. It will also help each person feel like a valued member of a modern tech company. Core team members are then empowered with the responsibility for hiring and onboarding activities as the team grows.

Solution Developers

When forming teams in tech startups, especially first core teams, it’s important to note that members usually wear multiple hats. This can be an attractive trait to individuals seeking to broaden their scope of their skill set; however, you may also want to consider adding Solution Developers to the team roster.

Solution Developers are adept at overcoming the initial challenges that many startups and new teams face. When interviewing for these roles, it’s helpful to think about specific problems the Solution Developers will tackle, how they will offload work from the team, and other potential skills and solutions that they will bring. Candidates for these roles should be able to explain all of this during the interview and provide examples of how they’ve done these things in prior roles.

During the team building phases, managers may want to consider hiring more Solution Developers and Solution Architects than Software developers. Startups often have challenging situations with projects in flux that are made more challenging by limited resources, particularly time. Add to this high demands from leadership and Sales, and the pressure on teams to make difficult decisions can quickly mount. Solution Developers and Solution Architects are focused on goals, not tasks. For these reasons, core team members need strong problem-solving skills as they work to quickly find solutions for pain points and competing priorities.

Harut is the Director of Engineering for DISQO Armenia. With over fifteen years of experience in engineering, Harut is an expert at both product strategy and people management. He is responsible for driving innovation and overseeing the growth of an effective team. Harut has a demonstrated record of building and managing effective teams in Armenia for both US-based and European companies. He thrives on developing and coaching today’s top talent and has a passion for implementing the most recent technology into his product strategies.

See more articles by Harut Baghdasaryan.