Flush with hitchhiking success, I often encouraged friends to thumb lifts and wherever possible join me on my travels. I genuinely wanted to share the road freedom I had discovered.
However, only a few ever followed and on the odd occasion I hitched in company, I discovered the challenges of working in a small team.
Pain across the Pennines
Easter 1984 was a scorcher. Three of us spent a week walking the Lake District mountains. Such thirsty work led us to the pub each night and on the last evening I persuaded the others to hitch home with me the following day. Train ticket money saved, the beer kitty overflowed.
The next morning (and with a collective hangover and hazy sense of adventure) we stood with our bulging rucksacks by the roadside.
Unfortunately, this trio of fluffy half-beards did little for passing motorists and it didn’t take long before I was receiving ‘friendly fire’. “You said we’d get picked up within 30 minutes Harrington…” and other similar but unrepeatable accusations came my way. The challenges of working in a small team were dawning on me. It would have been much easier to travel alone.
Eventually, a slightly battered motor-home did stop. Perfect! I felt vindicated. Rick and I scrambled in the back door and Adi squeezed his hulking frame onto the passenger seat next to the driver.
For the first few minutes all seemed fine as we made headway along the A66. But the romantic rosy picture of hitchhiking I had painted the night before was about to be completely torn up.
Our Leeds-bound driver rarely broke 40 mph and chain smoked all the way. Between puffs she ranted continuously about ‘hating sport and competitive activities’ and we’d regularly hear a loud horn sound off as another angry driver risked life and vehicle to pass our chug-along.
Trying to maintain a degree of harmony in front, Adrian never disagreed or challenged any of the driver’s opinions. But she hardly asked him a question. He felt it was better not to mention he was off to the Seoul Olympics with the canoeing team that summer.
That nightmare 90 mile journey to Leeds took 5 long hours and included two stops. Delighted to escape we tried to hitch south to Nottingham but without success. With daylight hours running out and patience long gone we eventually gave up and walked to Leeds railway station. Adi and Rick never hitched again. Aware of the challenges of working in a small team I decided not to encourage others to hitch with me.
Lessons for the entrepreneur
When you think about starting a new business, it can be an unnerving experience, especially if you’re going it alone. As a result, there is a natural tendency to want to reduce the sense of exposure and financial risk. One way of doing this is to involve others in the venture.
Unfortunately, our perceptions of how we want to run a business and where we want it to go are unlikely to be the same as others. Whilst every individual will have the best of intentions at the start, it’s very easy for things to fall apart later – with potentially disastrous effects. The excitement of the moment must be tempered with clear rational thinking. But if as a result of the process you are confident you have the right team, you may have something special.
So if you want to create a business with others, it’s important to dig deep with questions. Everyone involved must understand and appreciate each others’ motives, values and goals. Taking time with this process pays real dividends in the long term. Don’t be concerned if people choose to back out. Much better that they do this at the outset because the challenges of working in a small team later can cause far more angst.
That said, teams that work well together get much more done than an individual. This short article highlights the key issues that make a team effective and this World Future Society post demonstrates why teamwork is the key to innovation in the 21st century.
But like starting my first business, I loved hitchhiking because I enjoyed the freedom to make my own decisions and face uncertainty. If things went wrong I got a sense of achievement by overcoming the problems that presented themselves. However, after the motor-home fiasco I was far more aware of the challenges of working in a small team and chose to only hitch with other people if it was absolutely necessary (see the round-trip to Lands End).
Working solo is completely different to working in a team. If you are making career decisions it’s important you know the kind of environment where you work best. Teams can do amazing things but if they are badly constructed or inappropriate for the task, they can also stagnate and halt meaningful activity.
Whilst entrepreneurs do not always succeed, it is their single-minded determination and ability to act quickly and without time-consuming consultation that often makes them successful. Their working environment also gives them freedom to make choices, something that is often much less easy when working in a team. However, always remember that one person is limited by their own skills, knowledge and perception of reality.
Key Learning Points: Entrepreneurs enjoy making things happen and are often single-minded. Such behaviour is typically not as effective within a team. When starting a new business think carefully before committing to working with other people and be aware of the benefits and challenges of working in a small team.