Allowing your employees to bring their dogs to work may be great for creativity, but does it really matter if nobody is excited about solving the same problem?
Creating sustainable startup growth starts with unity. Company culture is important, but you can’t do anything if your team doesn’t get excited about solving the same problems.
The best startups use their culture to identify like-minded people and help them thrive. Diversity is the key to getting people excited, but unity is what keeps your team together.
At a startup, there’s only one guarantee: unexpected roadblocks. A team comprised of people that are only in it for the paycheck simply won’t last. The best products are made by people who would be working together even if there wasn’t any money involved.
Culture Starts at the Core Team
Regardless of what stage your business is in, the core team sets the tone for the entire company. Excitement starts at the top.
As a founder, you don’t have any time to drag your feet. You can’t expect employees to be enthusiastic unless you’re practicing what you preach.
It’s crucial for the core team to have a clear vision. While it’s important to cover a diverse range of skill sets with your hiring, it’s important to remember that most things can be learned — the hard part is identifying the necessary soft skills.
For early hires, the most important trait is a strong desire to learn. When you’re at your most vulnerable, you can’t necessarily afford to diversify the talent. Your core team should be ready and willing to switch gears and learn something new.
At companies with thousands of employees like Amazon, each hire is merely a cog in the wheel. If one breaks, the wheel isn’t going to stop turning.
Startups are more like old Christmas lights: when one goes out, everything falls apart quickly. When you have a team of five, you can’t afford to hire someone that isn’t going to show up when things get difficult.
If the core members of your startup are taking three days off each week, you can’t expect the work ethic of your employees to be any stronger.
As a founder, leading by example is everything. Whether it’s listening to everyone during brainstorm sessions, conducting daily standup meetings, or even opening up communication to public Slack channels — good company culture always starts with the founders.
Is Everyone Excited About the Same Thing?
When it comes to hiring at an early stage startup, your main priority should be on identifying the right soft skills. It’s easy to over-diversify and hire too many people at the first sign of success, but diluting your focus can spell disaster without the right team members.
An experienced freelancer who knows 25+ programming languages may seem like a safer bet over a college student willing to work at your startup for pennies on the dollar, but the fact is, freelancers simply aren’t going to dedicate their lives to your product. Just because someone isn’t an expert doesn’t mean they aren’t a great candidate for your team.
Your core team should always be the most passionate and be willing to learn the widest range of hard skills. The various skills your future hires contribute should get more granular as you continue to scale.
Hiring people who are excited about the same problem doesn’t necessarily mean they have to same the solve the same part of it — that’s how you start to add diversity to your team.
When the seas get rough in the Silicon Valley, internal drive is the only thing that forces people to go to work every morning. If you’re excited about what you’re working on, perseverance comes naturally.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
It’s impossible to improve your company’s culture without looking at what’s already going on. Before making any changes to your internal operations, you need to know what you’re doing right, and what you’re doing wrong.
Always start by making a list of your strengths and weaknesses as a team. Maybe everyone is great about project deadlines but nobody knows what’s going on internally. Finding balance is everything — if you want to keep the marketing team in sync with product leases, maybe it’s time to shift from Slack channels to a weekly stand-up meeting.
While the Silicon Valley may have you thinking otherwise, adjustments to company culture don’t always have to be made by letting employees bring their dogs to work. Dogs might be great for productivity but start by pinpointing your weaknesses and adjusting accordingly.
Does Your Company’s Culture Promote Organization?
Creating a culture that keeps your team organized is the most important part of your internal review. Sometimes the biggest changes are the simplest to implement.
Whether you’re in the same office or distributed across multiple contents, getting organized is central to staying focused as a team.
Your company’s culture is an opportunity to bake creativity and organization right into your team’s work habits.
While it’s hard to improve your individual company’s culture without looking into what exactly needs to change, opening up your communication channels is a great starting place.
Always hire people that don’t need to be micromanaged. Your culture should promote independence by segmenting projects and encouraging team members to communicate.
First Unite, then Diversify
You can’t have a successful startup without unifying your team’s vision. The first stage is bringing together people with the same idea. Your core team should have all of the soft skills and technical knowledge needed to build your MVP (minimum viable product).
The second stage is diversifying. This comes once your team is stable, your product is launched, and you’re starting to generate revenue.
Diversifying the talent on your team helps you grow in unexpected ways. When the focus is on new product releases and customer development, hiring an employee with a more niche skill set allows your startup to scale by playing to its strengths.
The transition is usually incremental—maybe instead of having a marketing manager who handles everything, you add in a social media specialist and copywriter to take over blog updates and daily content.
The same can be said for the product side. Mark Zuckerberg may have coded the initial version of Facebook, but it’s a safe bet he hasn’t written any code for at least a few years considering over 13,000 people work at his company.
The roles might become increasingly granular, but your team members shouldn’t be any less aligned with your vision.