My team took a consultant's report very personally and couldn't focus on improvement

In my corporate life we used consultants. I always felt they told me what I already knew but they provided authority and helped with politics. They were also expensive

When I started my business, I vowed not to use consultants but we didn’t have a lot of bandwidth and needed to do some process mapping of our logistics as we grew.

I decided not to use a firm and found a local person with an MBA who was a logistic specialist. I briefed her and she started her assignment.

She presented her report to our senior team. What she showed was that we weren’t communicating with one another and that the systems had big holes in them. We had too many manual interventions and the data entry was inaccurate.

My reaction was this was great as these were easy problems to fix. Dealing with these issues would improve productivity and customer service.

The reaction from our team was quite different. Team members started to blame one another and everyone was critical of the IT people. Tempers flared. I tried to calm everyone down and show them that this was good news as we could easily fix everything. It didn’t matter of who was at fault; it was an issue of growing pains that needed to be dealt with.

The fact that all of this became interpersonal was unsettling for me. I had a lot of work to do to bring this team together.

I signed off on a contract without realizing costs had increased

I ran the farming operations and production facilities in Ghana while my cofounder and partner did sales and marketing from Washington DC. When we started the business, we shared all the decision-making and everything worked well.

As the business grew we were making more decisions and making them faster. The flow of information was just enough to get by, but things started falling between the cracks.  Our roles and responsibilities were getting blurred. The worst example was when our largest customer visited Ghana. They wanted to talk about a long-term contract and wanted a quick decision. If we did not do business with them they would find someone else while they were there.

They laid out terms that seemed reasonable to me. They were higher than we were getting and it was for a year. I did not see any problem with signing there. That night, I updated my cofounder. She was shocked because it was way too low and didn’t  include the cost of customs clearance. Now we would lose money on every delivery. I told her I thought we were making money from them and she said we were, but that the cost of clearance was going up and we needed a 2% increase to cover the cost of currency movements.

After a lot of heated discussion we agreed we needed to meet face-to-face. We needed to set out our role and responsibilities and who makes what decisions. We needed to talk more often.

Somehow silos were forming when I thought we'd been active in preventing them

We were having a team dinner, there are now 40 people, and as I looked around, I realized I don’t know all of them that well. I noticed people were seated with others from their departments. Sales people were with sales people, ops with ops, etc. I realized I had a problem on my hands; the company was already breaking into silos.

We always valued collaboration and saw it a part of our culture and differentiation. But I could see this slipping away. Where had I gone wrong?

When someone joined the company, they worked in each department and we had open meetings with everyone in the company. When possible, we had multi-departmental teams working on projects. What else could I do? If I failed to act now, the problem would get even worse.

Our CEO was shocked investors didn't want to invest after his presentation

Alan was a CEO. He was the founder and held all the patents. He decided that he would handle all the fundraising. He was not financially literate but that didn’t bother him. He led the seed round and was convinced that he could do the series A.

I went with Alan to an investor meeting, but he did all the talking. He had some PowerPoints and basically just read them. He had a set of notes and did not look up from them and had no eye contact with the investors.

When they asked him questions, he took it as a personal challenge and got aggressive. When he didn’t know the answer to questions, he didn’t consult me or say, “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you.”

At the end of the meeting Alan, asked the investors when he would get the money. When the most senior investor said never, Alan was shell-shocked.