Category: Female entrepreneurship

The Blueprint for Building A+ Teams

By Nikki Blacksmith, Ph.D. & Maureen McCusker, Ph.D., Co-Founders of Blackhawke

Teams make up the backbone of every startup. An “A” team can drive companies to success, but ineffective teams inevitably drive companies to failure. What drives startups to unicorn status: an A+ team.

So what makes an A+ team? Based on decades of studying effective and ineffective teams across a variety of industries, we identified a blueprint for building A+ teams. Below we explain 4 components of the blueprint and how to foster each one.

Open and Frequent Communication

What’s simple: Teams need to talk to each other to succeed. The easiest way to create efficiency and enhance collaboration is to effectively share information and knowledge, awareness, and build trusting relationships.

What’s not simple: People communicate in different ways. When team members know the values of the team or organization, they can better determine priorities and align efforts. Setting behavioral and decision-making norms can preemptively avoid conflict within teams. Below are some action items for communicating effectively:

  • Get to know each other’s communication styles and preferences
  • Prioritize what requires communication and what doesn’t
  • Jointly learn how to provide and receive feedback based on your own personality traits and preferences you’ve discussed


What’s simple: team members who get along will work better together than those who do not. Decades of Industrial-Organizational (I-O) psychology research show that teams who are more cohesive – that is, tightly stick together – are more effective and perform higher.

What’s not simple: how to foster cohesion. Cohesion requires that team members trust each other, communicate with one another effectively, and like each other. Below are some action items to help build cohesion in your team:

  • Spend time getting to know one another outside of work
  • Take time to formally learn about each others’ personality and understand how it fits with yours and others in your team
  • Be authentic and truthful with one another

A Shared Mental Model

What’s simple: when everyone is on the same page about the purpose of the company,its future plans, and overall strategy , it’s much easier to achieve organizational goals and milestones..

What’s not simple: Most members of a team have surprisingly different ideas of the overall mission, purpose, and goals of the startup and how to get there, especially in early stages. This shared understanding of the task is what I-O psychologists call a shared mental model, and it’s critical for team coordination and effectiveness. Below are some action items to help build a shared mental model in your team:

  • Have each team member write a description of the purpose, mission, and goals in their own time and in their own words
  • Hold a meeting where each member shares his/her description
  • Discuss the discrepancies and formalize a shared, agreed-upon mental model, and strategy
  • Use that shared mental model as a resource to guide processes and strategies of accomplishing tasks and achieving goals

A Shared Understanding of Roles and Responsibilities

What’s simple: It’s very clear that when it comes to startups, teamwork is more effective than individual work. Teams who divide and share work are more efficient, and in turn are more effective than those who don’t.

What’s not simple: When founder teams work together on tasks that are all so highly interdependent and intermingled, conflict can easily arise due to blurred or overlapping lines of responsibilities and duties. Further, as teams grow – it’s easy to lose track of who is doing what and then redundancies emerge and efficiency is lost. Below are some action items to help avoid this very common cause of conflict:

  • Work together to clearly define each person’s role and the responsibilities
  • Devote time periodically (e.g., weekly, biweekly, monthly) to specifically discuss ongoing work and identify areas of potential redundancy and synergy
  • Discuss and decide upon how decisions are made (e.g., majority vote, consensus) and, if applicable, who the ultimate decision-maker is for each task

About Blackhawke

Using unique psychological assessments and predictive analytics, Blackhawke provides venture capitalists, angels and other investors with a deep understanding of the capability, resilience, motivation, strengths and weaknesses of entrepreneurs and startup management teams. See for more information, or email

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The paradox of the female entrepreneur.

Startups with at least one female on their founding teams are more successful, yet female entrepreneurs receive only a fraction of the funding of their male counterparts. Why is this, and what can be done about it?

In one study, researchers found that companies with at least one female founder perform 63% better than investments with all-male founding teams (FirstRound, 2015), yet female entrepreneurs experience more difficulties accessing funding and receive smaller amounts of funding (e.g., Brana, 2013; Burk, van stel, Hartog, & Ichou, 2014; Coleman & Kariv, 2014). And in 2016, venture capitalists invested $58.2 billion in entrepreneurial ventures with all-male founders. In comparison, ventures with all-female founders received only $1.46 billion (Zarya, 2017).

What explains this disparity? Research into the psychology of entrepreneurs and investors suggests a few explanations.

Firstly, women entrepreneurs are evaluated based on a different set of standards compared to their male counterparts (Malmstrom, Johansson, & Wincent, 2017a). Women even get asked different questions by investors. This likely occurs because people (both men and women) perceive entrepreneurs as having predominantly masculine attributes (Gupta, Turban, Wasti, & Sikdar, 2009). Therefore, women might be perceived as being less entrepreneurial than men.

A group of researchers silently observed closed-room governmental venture capital decision-making meetings they had about evaluations of 125 entrepreneurial ventures and their founders (Malmstrom et al., 2017a). The researchers discovered that government venture capitalists talked about the potential of a male entrepreneur differently than female entrepreneurs. For example, a male entrepreneur might be described as “young and promising” while a female would be described as “young, but experienced.” These disparate attributions also led to disproportionate funding. On average, women received only 25% of what they applied for compared to 52% of requested amount for the males.

Although this research seems to present a dismal view of funding opportunities for women, the research study actually led to positive change including development of a new strategy of dispersing funds and new regulations (Malmstrom, Johansson, & Wincent, 2017b). Likewise, strategies to minimise the bias of investors – which we discussed in a previous article – can not only improve the quality of the decisions that investors make but also improve opportunities for female entrepreneurs.

By Ben Hawkes and Dr. Nikki Blacksmith


Brana, S. (2013). Microcredit: An answer to the gender problem in funding? Small Business Economics, 40, 87–100.

Burke, A., van Stel, A., Hartog, C., & Ichou, A. (2014). What determines the level of informal venture finance investment? Market clearing forces and gender effects. Small Business Economics, 42, 467–484.

Coleman, S. & Kariv, D. (2014). Deconstructing’ entrepreneurial self-efficacy: A gendered perspective on the impact of ESE and community entrepreneurial culture on the financial strategies and performance of new firms. Venture Capital, 16, 157–181.

First Round (2015) 10 Year Project. First Round. Retrieved from:

Gupta, V. K., Turban, D. B., Wasti, S. A., & Sikdar, A. (2009). The role of gender in stereotypes in perceptions of entrepreneurs and intentions to become an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 33, 397-417.

Kanze, D., Huang, L., Conley, M.A., & Higgins, T. T. (2017). We ask men to win & women not to lose: Closing the gender gap in startup funding. Academy of Management Journal. doi: 10.5465/amj.2016.1215

Malmstrom, M., Johansson, J., & Wincent, J. (2017). Gender stereotypes and venture support decisions: How governmental venture capitalists socially construct entrepreneurs’ potential. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice. doi: 10.1111/etap.12275

Malmstrom, M., Johansson, J., & Wincent, J. (2017). We recorded VCs’ conversations and analyzed how differently they talk about female entrepreneurs. Harvard Business Review

Zarya, V. (2017). Venture capital’s funding gender gap is actually getting worse. Fortune. Retrieved from:

About Blackhawke

Using unique psychological assessments and predictive analytics, Blackhawke provides venture capitalists, angels and other investors with a deep understanding of the capability, resilience, motivation, strengths and weaknesses of entrepreneurs and startup management teams. See for more information, or email