Building a Team: Defense is the Best Offense

Building a team is hard work. Each player you add takes time to onboard and ramp. Some roles folks get ramped in under a month, but most roles take months or even quarters to become fully productive. Hiring an excellent person is just the start. You have to retain them to actually build a winning team.

I talk a lot about recruitment on this blog and recruiting is hard to navigate, but relatively well documented. There is far less written about how to actually retain folks. Here are a few things to be thinking about once you have a team that is performing well:

  1. Be a great manager
  2. Make sure folks can win in their job
  3. Understand motivations
  4. Proactively review compensation
  5. Growth

Be a Great Manager

I blog a lot about management and how to up your management game.  The aphorism that people join companies and leave managers is 100% true, Some quick hits for being a great manager:

Those are just a few things you can focus on to be a better manager. People will stick through hard times if they feel like their manager is helping them get where they are going.

Make sure folks can win in their job

Winning is a feeling more than an objective. In startups, a lot of winning is actually failure and its up to you and the organization to acknowledge what is winning and to celebrate big milestones as well as the learning that comes with coming up short.

Tactically, setting the right goals can help create a sense of winning. Setting achievable goals when times are hard and hard goals when times are good can help create a sense that your people can win in their job. Setting good goals can seem easy, but take time to really think through the right goals and make sure they are structured in a way where achievement can be worked towards. Read through Setting Goals for Humans for a primer on thinking through sound goal setting.

Understand Motivations

Part of good management is consistent check ins. Check-ins should cover progress towards goals and clearing roadblocks but should also cover understanding what the employee wants to get out of the opportunity. Some folks are eager to move up the ladder or into other functions. Some are just trying to be the best at their current job. Some are trying to pay the bills and feed a family. Knowing the motivations of your people will ensure that they are getting what they need out of the opportunity and can help spot folks that are ready to move out of the organization, which is also totally fine and part of being a great manager. Do your best to meet their needs, and when you can't you wont be blind sided when someone leaves which allows you to human capital plan for attrition.

Proactively Review Compensation

If you have a head of people, this will be one of the first things they will focus on.  Why wait? Every operator can get access to tools like Options Impact and be able to assess if their current team members are adequately compensated.

This day and age everyone talks about their compensation. Just assume that if you have a 10 person engineering team that all 10 know what everyone else is making (there may be even a spreadsheet!). So if you hire a new engineer on to a team where some of the engineers with similar experience and responsibilities are making less this will create disharmony and will lead to attrition.

There is immense retention power in giving someone a raise before they ask for it,. You do this not just for performance but to get your people to market compensation. If someone has to ask for a raise, it means they know they are inadequately comped and it will take more effort to reward them to make them happy in their current role.

A lot of dissatisfaction comes from compensation.  Regardless of the size of your company, work comp reviews into your annual routine and be aware when you start hiring people at compensation well above others on the team.  If that is happening, you should immediately review all compensation and make adjustments. Losing an already ramped, valued employee is very costly and backfilling their role will take time and will likely require you to pay up to the compensation you would have needed to just retain that person.


If you are growing fast and opportunity is abound, retention becomes easier. You can fudge some of the points above simply by being the hot startup. You might not always be in high growth mode, so building in sound retention hygiene even in periods of growth is advised. Don't get complacent.

This list is not exhaustive, but should help you in taking some initial steps to make sure all of the hard work on recruiting a great team doesn't go down the drain as people leave disaffected.

Trent Krupp

Founded Threaded: The personal rolodex built from your existing data. Previously, Head of Product at Impact, a market network serving the entertainment industry as well as Head of Revenue at Triplebyte and Hired. Founded an agency in my 20's, sold it to Hired and became employee 5. Recruited for VCs, growth and public companies. Helped the founders of recruitment tech startups, Trusted Health, Terminal and Beacon in the early days.