Some leaders believe that customers are their most important priority. Others believe their boss, their board, or their investors are their most important priority.
I’ve worked in companies where these philosophies were the cultural norm. But I don’t agree with them. I believe your teammates are your most important priority. If you take care of them, they will take care of everything else.
Why should your team be your top priority? Different people will have different reasons, but these three are foundational for understanding how business really works, and how companies can win big if they remember who comes first and why.
- Without your team, you would have no product. You may have a killer idea, but practically no business is truly a one-person show. However you define your product or service, it almost always takes a team to bring it to market. And that’s definitely true if you want a sizable footprint in the marketplace.
From ideation to implementation, employees, contractors, and consultants help us pull our dreams out of the sky and turn them into real products. I’ve got fifty great ideas right now, but without a team I couldn’t get any more than one or two to market in any given year. With a team, I can marshal creativity, energy, and gifts I don’t have to grow my vision and make a bigger impact than I could on my own.
Without your team, you would have no customers. Other than the rare instance of a product being a pure solopreneur offering, it takes a team to interface with customers—not only finding and serving them, but interacting with them after the sale on the customer service side.
These days, as I’ve said here before, customer service is marketing. If you’re not meeting expectations, you’re in trouble. A team not only lets you create product, but also enables you to connect that product with customers in an enriching way that will keep them happy and coming back for more.
If you get that reversed, however, you can overburden your team with customer demands, create burnout and turnover, and ultimately sink your business. And that’s a bad day at the office. Team first, then customers.
Without products and customers, bosses, boards, and investors don’t matter. Bosses, boards, and investors exist to facilitate this team-product-customer interaction. If we put them first we run the risk of killing the thing that’s making everything possible in the first place.
Bosses, boards, and investors may have values in sync with you, your team, and the customer base you’ve cultivated. But maybe not. I’ve seen boards do things in the name of the business that would have been catastrophic if it weren’t for the team taking the hit and still believing in what they do enough to stay the course.
When it comes down to it, the truth is that your team is the product. Why do I say that? Because whatever you’re delivering, your team is what you have to offer the world. That’s why it’s critical you have the right people on the team. And that’s why it’s critical you don’t prioritize other things before your team.
If you have a great team, you can launch a great product and keep customers, bosses, boards, and investors happy. If you have poor team, you’ll probably launch a poor product and disappoint customers, bosses, boards, and investors.
What this means at the most practical level is simple: Put the team first because if you take care of your team, they’ll take care of you.
Question: What’s the best team you ever worked on? How did that experience affect your enjoyment of the work?