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How do you build a team that survives a crisis? Start by examining your DNA

A few weeks ago we conducted a survey on our portal concerning the reasons for resignation from work. 41% indicated that the salary was too low, 15% that the workload was too heavy, but the rest, i.e. almost half of the respondents, chose the answer “other”. Together with HR experts, we analyzed these results, wondering what might be in the “other” category. They answered that it is very often the fault of the manager – insufficient communication of goals and not giving feedback, but also the atmosphere at work – low level of employee engagement and lack of support. The experts also emphasized that the youngest generation of employees, “Z”, has much higher demands in terms of how they feel in their company: “More and more important for employees today is the environment in which they work – not only the product or service that is developed in the company, but above all the people they work with.”

Since good relations with people are so important for a growing number of employees, almost half of the surveyed give “other”, and not finances or overload of duties, as the reason for resigning from work, it is clear that it is really worth talking about how to improve relations in the team.

That is why today we are talking with Justyna Liber, a trainer of managers, who will tell us about the “Talent DNA”, a proprietary method of researching individual talents in order to build teams that work well and get along well. Recently, Ms. Justyna conducted workshops for one of the largest Polish companies producing industrial robots, so we could talk not only about the startup team, but also about the specifics of building and managing a team in this type of company.

Let’s start from the beginning. What is Talent DNA and why is it worth selecting employees according to this key?

The purpose of the Talent DNA is to build a close-knit, effective team whose employees derive pleasure from their work. Human DNA is made up of four components, which are always paired the same. This combination is governed by the rule of complementarity, i.e., two opposites come together to form a whole because they complement each other in this way. Another example: when we take a battery, no one asks which is more important, the plus or the minus, everyone knows that even though they are their opposites, both are equally necessary. The same is true for DNA, batteries, and the team at work, except that not many people know about the latter. To make the Talent DNA model easier to understand, I turn the four DNA components into four seasons, where each season represents a different type of employee personality, a different “talent.” Winter is the opposite of Summer, and Spring is Autumn – Spring sows and Autumn reaps.

Spring is the Initiator, summer the Communicator, autumn the Executor, and winter the Administrator. And here is the key thing: none of these profiles is worse or better than the other and, more importantly, each of them is needed in the company, only not at the same time. Just like every season has its time, every type of employee, every “talent” has its place in the so-called total cycle (which I will talk about later). Talent is a way of thinking and acting, independent of industry, independent of company, and different talents will see a completely different perspective of a given situation.

Spring – Initiator

Spring, when problems arise, can come up with not one, but three solutions. These are the people whose main value is their idea, they like being the first, entering the unknown, taking risks. Hence, very often start-ups/entrepreneurs are just “springs”. They act at all, they have energy and despite the fact that no one believes in their success, they push forward, they go for their own. However, this profile has a problem with time, because they are impatient and can’t estimate the time needed to complete a task.

Summer – Communicator

Summers are the people who are most likely to be responsible for sales in a company. Contact with clients or the media – communicating the company’s vision. They want the idea to flourish, to “mature” – they take the idea out of the initiator’s head and put it into words, describe and sell it. Such employees love contact with people. For them, thinking about numbers, how much they will earn on it, how much of what they should sell, is irrelevant and, attention, it is not their motivator either. Therefore, these people strongly need the winter profile for cooperation, because without it the company, despite the strong performance of the summer, will not bring profits.

Autumn – Realizer

We come to autumn, the time when you “have to get to work”. – to harvest the crops whose growth was made possible by spring and summer. Here, then, we no longer operate on the general, but move into the details. An employee with this profile will ask the team how we divide the work, what technologies we use, and so on. This employee is the consummate doer, enabling us to put into practice what the more creative and communicative profiles have come up with. And these profiles are helped a lot by the presence of autumn, because they do not like to plan, to go down to details, because it is boring for them. The most beautiful thing is that these people are so by nature, we do not have to convince them to these “boring” tasks, because they themselves are willing to undertake them.

Winter – Administrator

The last profile is Winter, or Administrator. He will be counting, looking at the financial results of the company. Winter profiles before they start working, they need to know what the company is aiming at, what its goal is. “Winters” is a group of entrepreneurs who are rarely my client, because they themselves care deeply about making sure that everything in the company is well arranged, coherent and logical.


Employee profiles according to the Talent DNA concept

How to select a team that will survive the trials of a difficult, winding path of a startup business?

I am very happy that I can present this tool to startups, because it brings the best results when implemented at the very beginning of building a company, in those that have been on the market for several years, the process will be much more difficult.

Often entrepreneurs start to build a strategy on how to achieve success without taking people into account. And it is people, or rather teams of people working together that make the numbers! Depending on the quality of the team (whether they can communicate, how they choose their tasks), they work together better or worse. And the quality of the product they deliver depends on how well they perform their duties together.

The first person we select to join the team should be complementary to the founder. And since he is most often a “spring”, there should be a “fall” in his team to start with. Ultimately, we need to have all “seasons” on the team.

When hiring, we must first, at least roughly, set the first version of the plan, which will give answers to what goals the team is to achieve, and through what activities it is to get there. Why? Because then we know what activities there are and how much time they take. This will allow us to prepare for recruitment. In this process, most people focus on hard competencies, the things that can be easily measured, by which candidates can be compared.

… especially in a startup where as a rule we need people with strong technical competencies

Exactly. But this is the wrong approach, because we live in a rapidly changing world where products, whole technologies, have short life cycles. So what good is hiring a great specialist in a given technology if he or she is not very open to changes and unwilling to learn new things? It may turn out that in a year or two our startup will have to change technology, or even pivot to another industry. Therefore, a startup team needs extremely carefully selected employees in terms of personality profile.
How to counteract conflicts in the team?

People don’t know that they are different and they don’t know that being one of four profiles, they only see a quarter of the picture. In good faith, they impose their definition of how to run a company well, completely unaware that several people looking at the same situation understand it differently. What does this lead to? Well, to disputes, of course, because each profile is deeply convinced of its rightness. A simple example: the boss, spring profile proposes: “Let’s introduce a new marketing campaign, we will improve the reach!”, to which the employee, the winter profile will answer: “No, first we need to see how much it will cost us and whether it will bring the expected profits!”.

The moment both parties learn that the difference of opinion is due to the DNA profile, that each of them has their equally important (but at different times!) rationale and, equally important, that these disagreements are nothing personal, e.g. do not undermine the authority of the boss, it is much easier to get along. In many companies I have already observed this transformation, from quarrels to the realization that the cooperation of those most often in conflict is something excellent and extremely necessary for the company, because these are employees with complementary profiles. Because one cannot complete the whole cycle without the other – the company will not function well if there is no initiator and accountable.

Now let’s try to translate what you are talking about to the reality of startup work. Here it’s hard to divide tasks like from a razor blade, and people have to work together constantly. How do you structure roles so that different “DNA profiles” don’t interfere with each other?

The answer to your question comes from Total Cycles, built on the DNA of Talent. These talents create something, and it needs to be unraveled, done, and closed. This cycle is a set of activities that need to be done, whether we feel like it or not. As you say: this is not a corporation, here everything is mixed and blended and that’s why it is very important to make every team member aware that no matter what talent you are, you have to do a complete cycle together.


The Total Cycle, Justyna Liber’s Talent DNA concept

Because an employee who is familiar with the concept of the Total Cycle will find it much easier to get involved in tasks which are difficult and boring for his/her profile, because he/she will see the goal from the perspective of the whole company, not only his/her own. Secondly, it is much easier to deal with procrastination, because knowing his DNA profile he will know why he hates some tasks and loves others. And the fact that in a startup you not only create wow solutions, but also have to do accounting and create business strategies, it’s obvious but at the same time hard to swallow. I know founders whose businesses failed because they couldn’t force themselves to do the “boring” tasks, they were still stuck in their “spring”. That’s really dangerous.

What was stopping the companies you worked with?

The problem starts when the owner looks at his company as a Swiss watch, that is, as a mechanical system rather than a natural one. He doesn’t pay attention to the fact that employees have their own talents, ambitions, their own needs. He thinks that since he is paying, the job has to be done and he does not care much more.

Lack of procedures

But of course this is not the only problem, it does not only result from treating people like cogs of a machine, but also from lack of defined processes in the company. The superior comes and gives orders, everything is “on the fly”, so there are no repeatable processes. This is, for example, a very big problem when introducing a new employee, because even if we spend many days learning, the next project will be governed by completely new rules, which will have to be learned from scratch. Writing down procedures and rules is especially important in industry, because this is where projects are worked on.

Startups are also unaware of the importance of establishing procedures, and the longer they wait to implement them, the bigger the problems become. People who are “not set” can’t get along with each other, and of course misunderstandings grow over time. This one heard this way, understood that way, and did yet another.

Lack of numerical targets

Another common problem in companies is the lack of numerical targets. Founders are very often “springs” – they do not count, do not estimate, because in their mind it would be killing the creativity of employees, it is something very distant and undesirable for them. An example: I am currently working with a fairly young industrial company, seven years on the market, which is, however, experiencing ultra-rapid expansion – at the moment it is selling products to twenty-seven countries around the world. Imagine that they “didn’t have time” to build any processes, any reliable division of roles, which means that the whole business is really handled by one person, the founder of the company. The moment when the owner realized that something was wrong was the moment when it turned out that he had no time for private life and there were so many clients that we were not able to serve them. Here you can see that the internal operation of the company is very weak. From what can this result? The problem is not necessarily too few employees. Employees may be trying hard, going out of their way to meet what they believe are important goals, but the boss is meeting the opposite goals. Why? In this company’s situation, the owner did not have … time to tell the employee what the company’s goals are. To avoid such a situation you need to define processes, establish a profile, implement and make them independent.

And if from the very beginning there is no division into roles in the company, tasks are transferred smoothly, there is no standardization of processes, then even at the moment when the founder wants to finally share responsibilities, he simply cannot do it. He hasn’t counted before, he hasn’t evaluated, and as a result, he doesn’t know who he can delegate responsibilities to, who he can trust. Neither he nor his employees are prepared to do this.

No Total Cycles

Another example: as the company grows, sales increase and it happens that the owner equates increases in turnover with increases in profit. It seems that everything is going well, we hire new people, implement new technologies, because the money from sales is flowing. In a production company, where there are a lot of operations and we do not know who does them, when they are to be finished, with what quality they are made, we are not able to give the cost of producing this service or product. Often in a startup that’s growing fast we get to a point where we don’t know if we have high profitability or just high sales. Why? Because the ability to define costs, in my opinion, comes from defining Total Cycles – when we don’t measure, we don’t divide tasks, it may happen that an employee, yes, moves processes quickly, but he does it inefficiently and inaccurately. And, as I mentioned earlier, founders are often “springs” who are afraid that the control may limit the creativity of employees.

And such situations show that the implementation of Total Cycles in the company is crucial, that they can solve the above mentioned problems. and one more important thing: the implementation of procedures with the help of cycles is well received by the employees, because it is not the implementation of control presented as the implementation of control, but as an important element for the proper functioning of the whole company, and especially for them personally, because they are a part of this whole cycle. This way employees don’t feel accused of being inefficient or dishonest, it doesn’t show a lack of trust. It is easier to understand why you are being audited when you can see why it is natural and inherent.

This fact additionally goes a long way in improving the atmosphere in the work environment, because people stop being afraid of being judged and what they care about is the quality in their area. In place of rivalry, cooperation appears, and it is not forced, but conscious, “Because I want to”.

You recently led a workshop at a large Polish company that manufactures industrial robots. How do you introduce Talent DNA in such a highly technical team, surely a difficult task?

To start with, I have to say that I wish I worked non-stop with companies like the one we are talking about. My work there was just the “icing on the cake” of their HR efforts. My task was to improve flow in the company, show the managers how to derive more joy from their work based on the concept of flow. All the rest they have perfectly set up there, and this is not a matter of recent actions, but for at least twenty years. I can set this company as a model for any industrial company.

My first observation was that they focus on people and matching them according to, let’s call it in my terminology, DNA profiles. As a result, people are motivated, they are assigned to the tasks they like the most, and thus they are more effective in their execution, the cycles close faster. This is a company that, despite its highly technical profile, understands the importance of good HR for the company’s success. For the last twenty years the company has been regularly training its employees in soft skills, they do exactly what I talk about during trainings – they follow a model of total cycles developed by themselves, similar to the one I have created, and they build the team on the basis of DNA profiles.

I had the opportunity to read the book they wrote, “If you don’t know what it’s about, it’s about people”, which I would highly recommend reading to all technology companies. It shows how to build and maintain a well-functioning team in the industry, and it does so from the very first moment. That’s why I also recommend reading it for startups.


Do you want to explore your employees’ Talent DNA? Justyna Liber invites you to take a free test, available at: tps://test.i-kra.pl/

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