4 rules for motivating your team members

When managing teams in China, it’s easy to think about managing the team as a whole while forgetting that you’re also managing individuals. This is of course true anywhere, but it’s especially easy for foreigner managers working abroad to think they only need to manage the group.

It can be helpful to compare managing teams in your home country to managing a team in China. Understanding the general differences in motivations and expectations help guide how you talk to the group when explaining initiatives, defining expectations, and generally building the team’s culture.

But when I first moved back to China three years ago I fell into the trap of only managing the group, forgetting that I was actually working with individuals, each with unique motivations. I’ve also seen other foreigners managing Chinese teams fall into the trap of thinking only of the group as a whole, rather than also thinking of the group as a collection of individuals.

It’s time to start managing both the group and the individuals.

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Mix it, pour it, just don’t drink it

It’s important for entrepreneurs to believe in what they are selling — in essence, to create a field of distortion around themselves that makes it seem like anything is possible with their solution. They just need to make sure they don’t believe what they’re saying to the point of distorting their own view.

I often find myself saying to entrepreneurs “your job is to mix it and serve it, just don’t drink it yourself!” This usually slips out of my mouth when I’m talking to an entrepreneur who is pushing their idea so hard that it seems like they are trying to convince themselves of its brilliance, though in most cases I think they actually believe it, which is what concerns me.

This doesn’t mean it’s bad to serve the Kool-Aid to others (metaphorically speaking, of course). Really, as an entrepreneur that’s a huge part of your job: selling others on your dream. And while it’s absolutely critical that you make a case for your product or service that has people fighting to buy it, you have to make sure you critically assess the reality of your situation.

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Building your team of rivals

Do you get along with your co-founders really well? Do you feel like you always see eye-to-eye on everything? Then you would probably benefit from adding some “rivals” to your team.

I’ve started reading Team of Rivals a number of times and although something always prevents me from finishing it (the book is excellent, life just always seems to get in the way whenever I pick it up) one of the lessons I’ve drawn from it is that it’s beneficial to surround yourself with people who will challenge you with different perspectives. (This book is really about far more that just that, but cut me some slack here.)

I’ve certainly seen this in practice with founding teams, including some I work very closely with, and have witnessed the benefits of constructive and respectful disagreements that push the team to find the best answers to the problems they are trying to solve for their customers.

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The humble entrepreneur

I’m lucky to frequently meet with entrepreneurs as part of my job. Like many who work in the entrepreneurial space, I spend as much time getting a feel for the team as I do considering their idea.

I recently met with an entrepreneur who impressed me with his humble attitude. He didn’t try to convince me that he knew everything about his customers, or that he knew the industry better than anyone else — instead, we had an engaging discussion about his key assumptions and how he would like to try to validate them in the market.

That great discussion not only gave me confidence in the entrepreneur and made me interested in working with him, it also got me thinking about what traits I look for when considering working with an entrepreneur. Like many investors and partners in the entrepreneurial space, I spend as much time getting a feel for the team as I do understanding their idea and assessing its potential. Here are some of the traits that turn me on, and some that send me running as fast as I can in the other direction.

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Chinese studying abroad — an interview with Greg Nance (part two)

This is the third post in my series on Chinese studying abroad and the entrepreneurs serving them. This is the second and final part of my interview with Greg Nance, serial entrepreneur and CEO of ChaseFuture. As noted in the first part of this interview, ChaseFuture offers services like mentoring and essay proofreading for Chinese students aspiring to attend top schools in the US or UK.

In this part, Greg talks about ChaseFuture’s strategy in China, India, and Russia; co-founders and finding early employees; growing organically and creating a business that can scale; and gathering customer feedback as ChaseFuture considers expanding their services to better serve their customers’ needs.
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Chinese studying abroad — an interview with Greg Nance (part one)

This is the second post in my series on Chinese studying abroad and the entrepreneurs serving them. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Nance, serial entrepreneur and CEO of ChaseFuture. ChaseFuture offers services like mentoring and essay proofreading for Chinese students aspiring to attend top schools in the US or UK.

This is the first of two parts of my interview with Greg, where he talks about how he ended up in China, his first startup Moneythink, and the lessons he learned from Moneythink that are helping him with ChaseFuture.
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An effective project kickoff meeting in 4 steps

Have you ever left a project kickoff meeting not knowing why this team was brought together or what the project is about? Were you the one leading it?

If you’re an entrepreneur, or are leading an important project within your company, you have an opportunity to take individuals and turn them into a well-functioning team during the project kickoff meeting. But, as I’ve discovered the hard way, you sometimes only discover that you didn’t run a successful kickoff meeting much later, when you’re reflecting on a project that failed.

Follow these 4 steps for an effective project kickoff meeting to avoid that fate.
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3 ways to get your team to own the project

If you’re an entrepreneur or are leading a significant project within your organization, it’s vital to develop a sense of ownership among your team members. This is difficult to do on any project, but is especially hard when you have a multinational team with a mix of native languages and cultural backgrounds. In China it’s even more difficult because you are working against a culture that traditionally values blindly following the leader, and where risk-taking can lead to a loss of face.[1]

This sense of ownership has to be built into the team from the start of the project. But I can tell you from personal experience that it’s not enough to just tell the team you want them to “own” the project. You need to cultivate this ownership at every step of the project and reward team members whenever they take ownership. Here are three things you can do to help build this sense of ownership on any project.
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