SXSW Panels: How to create a top performing team with rockstars

FreshBooks Chief Cat Herder, Corey Reid, presented as part of a weekend SXSW panel entitled “Rockstars or Roadies: Who Makes the Better Employee?” Besides having the best session name ever, the discussion focused on how to build allstar dev teams – and, if we do say so ourselves, this is something Corey has plenty of expertise in given his role overseeing the talented technical teams at FreshBooks. Corey took to the stage with Daniel Ha, CEO at Disqus, Heather Gold from Subvert, Patti Chan of Intridea and Joe Stump, CTO at SimpleGeo Inc.

With Twitter to help curate the top ideas that got people talking, here are some of the panel highlights:

What do you look for in the lead rockstar?


The panel first defined the terms: what sorts of rockstars are out there and which ones will propel your business to the next level? They agreed there are the diva rockstars: those who are good at what they do but have let being awesome go to their head to the point they are either uncooperative or, worse, inconsiderate. In contrast, there are the rockstar legends: employees who may be famous for their results but lead by humble example and rock because they have a gift for coming up with solutions and will commit themselves to challenges, not to mention inspire others to follow suit. There’s no doubt it is indeed the latter that is the top performer on a team. The panel agreed that evaluating personality is likely one of the most important in hiring.

How to put together the band

According to the panel, even once you’ve found an inspiring rockstar for the team, there’s still an important balance to strike as you fill other roles. Your mission to create an effective group who works well together is far from over. Consider this analogy: when you’re putting on a concert, a bunch of lead singers with no sound tech makes for a pretty unimpressive music show. Same goes for a dev team – you need a crew of talented performers as well as supportive players to ensure the project is a success. What characteristics should you be looking for? The panel stressed the importance of culture fit, finding true team players with ability to collaborate and share constructive, and of course, technical skills to get the job done right.

A good manager makes all the difference

With a lead singer and sound tech sorted, the last piece of your team puzzle is finding someone to book the gigs and make sure every event runs smoothy. Whether in tech or in rock and roll, rockstars are people, and with that comes emotions, opinions and passion – things can get sticky if there’s not a great manager to lead the team. What matters is that someone is taking responsibility for the results (either good or bad). Providing that inspiration and leadership that the team needs, helping to solve conflicts while growing the team to strive and get better, makes having a wise and grounded manager all the more important.

If you want to listen to the podcast of Corey’s SXSW session, the awesome folks at SXSW will be making it available soon and we’ll be sure to update this post as soon as we get the link. For now you can see more highlights from this session on Twitter.

Ask Corey more about his panel on Twitter @barsoomcore or post your comments and questions below!

about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.