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  • Writer's pictureRich Haglund

Venture capital, teams of one, and the power of networks

People power organizations. And networked organizations change communities and industries. In his book, The Power Law: Venture Capital and the Making of the New Future, Sebastian Mallaby wrote that, when working well, "venture capitalists transform a mere agglomeration of smart people into an inventive network." They do so by "forging connections among entrepreneurs, ideas, customers, and capital." The first story Mallaby told in his book was about bright scientists wanting to leave because of an uncaring, egotistical, tyrannical manager (he really was that caustic). Being and having managers in your organization who care, are humble, and help their team members develop seems like a low bar. But, it's rarer than we may care to admit, even in our own organizations. And real success--helping team members feel known and supported--takes diligent effort.

I once asked a team member why he had decided to take a new job in a new organization. One of the main reasons was that this other organization had multiple people in roles similar to his. He felt alone inside our organization because he was the only one in his specific role. In a small organization, it's not unusual to have teams of one. One data scientist, one IT manager, or one director of finance. It's also not unusual to have the organizational structure change in light of new circumstances like new strategic choices, revamped programs, or additional funding (esp. for nonprofit or government organizations). But, those aren't excuses for my failure as a manager. I should have known this team member felt that way. I could have coached him to build a network of others in similar roles in other organizations. I could have helped him form an "inventive network" for his own benefit, the growth of our organization, and the well-being of the communities we served. Supporting team members in ways like this is the right thing to do. It's the right thing to do even if it leads to departures because team members outgrow roles they were hired for and because the next best role for them does not exist in our organization. So, what can you do--today or this week--to help team members build networks for their professional growth and your organization's impact?

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