Building a high performing team from the ground up

Aequip Team

Miriam Lahage, Co-founder of Aequip

How do you create a high performing team from a collection of individuals? How do you build a values system when everyone is joining on the same day? Most importantly, how do you build a lasting company culture when you operate with the intensity that building a business from the ground up brings in a start-up?

My co-founders and I had a clear purpose when creating the business. Now we needed to assemble the team that would help us to build on that ambition. We were lucky enough to be awarded a grant from Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency. We had a good idea of the skills that we needed and the team that we wanted to create. With the Innovate UK grant award, we compressed our recruitment of key roles into a short time span. From 5 December, when we first posted job openings, to 1 January, we had the challenge of finding the individuals with the skill, the will, and the commitment to the mission, to create ​workplaces for the future with inclusive tools that capture the metrics that matter.

We learned from Applied, the hiring platform that uses behavioural science research to remove bias to create a fair hiring process. We adjusted our job listings, looking for keywords that might be associated with a gender. We reviewed research that showed that women and people of colour are not as likely to apply for a stretch role–not because they lacked confidence, but rather that their own experiences demonstrated to them that they were not likely to be considered for a stretch role.

Of course we were moving at pace, with very little time to spare. The unintended consequence of needing to move fast was that we pushed out job listings and then refined them, as we learned more. We took an MVP approach to recruiting, which meant that our initial approach missed the mark, and we recognised that we needed to identify the challenges and iterate.

The week of Christmas we made five offers and received five acceptances from five smart, talented individuals ready to join this new team.

Onboarding during a lockdown can be challenging. Onboarding an entirely new team and developing into a high performing team in lockdown is taking it to a whole new level.

We brought individuals together in small group settings to get acquainted before the official start. We shared key research and background reading. Everyone had access to the productivity tools necessary to do the job. 

Plan for Week 1 was ambitious:

  • Get acquainted with each other
  • Show an overview of the project and the key deliverables
  • Set the values for the team
  • Understand the commercial aspects of Aequip
  • Set out Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) 
  • Determine core meeting hours
  • Develop meeting rituals
  • Encourage working autonomy
  • Come to a shared understanding of psychological safety, a foundational element of organisational health at Aequip using a great tool from Agile People 
  • Get to know each other on an individual level with One to One meetings using Relational Organising principles
  • Be ready to start Sprint 1 in Week 2

How did it go? Better than we had hoped, though we know we could do better. Quickly it became obvious that we are a team with diverse cultural backgrounds and different personality types, and we embraced our differences. We started to look to body language to understand when there was something unsaid and learned we needed to slow down to properly capture what was unsaid. As meaningful as all of the new Aequipers said the One to One meetings held across the whole team were, the co-founders as of this writing have yet to schedule One to One meetings with each other.

Aequip is delivering on its work packages at pace. When a startup is at its heart about innovation, and in our case redefining metrics that matter, the work can fluctuate between being wildly productive to falling (and failing) down a rabbit hole. The alignment with the vision/mission/purpose of Aequip, the embrace of the fast-paced rhythm, and the willingness to experiment in this startup is energising, and exciting, and scary all at once. We’ll keep you posted how things go.

Miriam Lahage has more than 30 years of leadership experience at global companies such as TJX, eBay and Net-a-Porter. Miriam was most recently CEO of Figleaves, where she led a product, digital, and organisational transformation. She is Co-founder and COO of Aequip.