War For Talent: 4 Tips for Tech Founders On Team Building And Scaling

Team building and scaling

With a surge of tech expansion fueled by the Covid-19 pandemic and a predicted mass exodus of workers later this year, many software companies in search of talented developers are coming up short. The shift to remote work forced virtually every company to become a digital company in 2020, increasing the need for software professionals to manage the move to the cloud, virtual team correspondence, and other tech challenges—pushing tech adoption forward by nearly a decade. 

Tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft, which also find themselves fighting to hire amid the talent shortage, are breaking the traditional Ivy League-to-intern-to full-time-employee pipeline to fill open roles. However, startups and mid-sized companies, which are unable to offer beefy benefits packages and above-average salaries, are struggling to compete with the big names for qualified talent. 

As a former Amazon team leader, I understand how to build an effective team and retain developers in a competitive environment at the biggest of the big. Today, as the CTO of a growth-stage tech venture, I also have experience with building tech teams at smaller companies. For tech founders and executives looking to build, grow, and retain a driven, thoughtful, and collaborative tech team amidst the war for talent, consider these tips:

Team Building And Scaling

Look Beyond the Resume

There is no doubt that automation has increased the efficiency of the hiring cycle, with employers using AI to screen the resumes of thousands of candidates in a single day. However, founders should not only rely on resumes while assessing the skills of potential team members. Online assessment tools can test the practical skills of candidates on the spot. You can even ask job applicants to develop a small application through online platforms to analyze their skills as a developer. According to HackerEarth’s 2021 Developer Survey, the majority of developer candidates (40%) prefer a live coding test as opposed to a traditional video interview. Look to allocate resources to these tools that enhance the recruiting experience.

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You can go one step further by checking if the candidate has contributed to any open-source software by simply going through their Github profile. Another skill signal to look for is participation in hackathons. If a candidate has taken part in a lot of hackathons, it shows that the person can perform problem-solving under time pressure and quickly move from ideation to product development. It can also show that they have strong collaboration skills—something extremely important in a team setup, especially for startups and early-stage companies. 

If you can look beyond the college degree section of a resume, you’ll be in good company. Top tech organizations such as Apple, Google, and IBM have stopped looking at college degrees and are focused on other more verifiable and dependable skill signals. In recent years, they have bolstered their tech apprenticeship programs, many of which don’t require applicants to have a college degree at all.  

Embrace A Flexible Work Setup

If your startup doesn’t have the resources to offer a top-end salary, create other initiatives that draw talent to you. Consider how a hybrid model might work in your office. Could you allow employees to work from home for two or three days a week while still providing office space for collaboration? You could also go a step farther and offer what many organizations can’t — flexible work hours. According to a recent Gartner survey of digital workers, 43% of respondents said they were more productive with flexible work hours. Oftentimes, they are happier too. 

If flex teams aren’t right for your organization right now, there are other ways to employ top talent without draining your resources. Connecting with freelance developers that excel in one specific skill could be hugely beneficial if you are working on a project-by-project basis. 

Alternatively, think about how your teams—especially entry-level developers—could embrace low-code and no-code platforms. Those candidates who show excellent potential but lack technical experience may be able to create solutions that are just as valuable to your organization without writing complicated code. 

Show the Human Face of Leadership

Often, candidates end up choosing between a large company with a storied reputation and a small team that offers more autonomy and potential for growth. To win over those candidates, concentrate on culture. Building and promoting a positive work environment is of utmost importance for team building and scaling. 

You can start by utilizing effective communication practices in the workplace. First and foremost, ask open-ended questions in order to promote analytical thinking among your employees. Welcome constructive feedback by asking your employees to voice their opinions and offer suggestions for improvement. The best teams are not authoritarian where new members are afraid to speak up, but rather ones that promote conversation across all seniority levels. Open communication is a proven and time-tested way to boost morale among team members while dialing up both efficiency and productivity. 

Your willingness to share your vulnerabilities as a leader can go a long way toward earning the trust of your employees. It encourages employees to share their own points of view and take a stand on them. If your organization becomes an echo chamber of your own thoughts, you run the risk of stagnating your growth. Your leadership style can make or break a positive and open work culture where everyone learns and grows together. 

Keep an Eye on Metrics of Growth

Having a fair and objective method of evaluating your team members is a crucial element of team building and scaling. Assessments give you a benchmark of areas where your organization can improve and a place to refer back to as you scale. 

Hiring can be a cumbersome process that typically takes a significant amount of time and resources. Keeping track of how long it takes to complete a hiring cycle is a fundamental metric that can help your team recruit more effectively. How long you retain talent is also a vital metric when you are measuring leadership success, especially in the fast-moving tech industry where turnover is common.

If your employees are not growing, you are not growing as an organization. Prioritize finding ways to track the growth trajectory of your employees, along with the speed of their professional development. As seen in the HackerEarth 2021 Developer Survey, 63% of student developers said that a good growth curve is a must-have and a total of 69% of working professionals look for a good career path in a company. Motivation and productivity will suffer if team members don’t find value in their roles, or if they feel there is a lack of proper mentorship. 

Talent is Out There

Though challenging, it is not impossible to attract quality talent right now. Focus on building a community for your developers where they feel heard and supported, intellectually stimulated, and welcomed into an honest, transparent culture. When you commit time to the things that are important to your employees, like communicating expectations and laying out a path for upward mobility, your organization grows in lockstep with building happy, productive teams.

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