How to build a positive startup culture
For many of us, work takes up roughly 8 hours of the day, plus a commute to get there and back. The people we work with may form the majority of our social interaction, outside of close family. The place we work in appears, half-remembered in our dreams. Clearly, work is an important ingredient of our lives, even if we don’t always take it seriously.
Whether you are an employee, a manager, or a business owner your workplace is going to influence you. It can be a hectic place, cluttered desks and cluttered thoughts, stepping from crisis to crisis (and the truth is, there will be times when even the most positive business feels a bit like this). It can be an active place, where you know what you’re doing, do it, and move swiftly and cleanly on to the next achievable task. Work can be relaxed or stressful, draining or thrilling, dull or fun. But often it seems to average towards the more negative of these qualities. Boredom, lack of interest, not knowing what to do, personality conflicts, arguments and worse can mar the 8 hours a day we spend at work. It’s in everyone’s interests to make work as good a place as possible for everyone who works there.
I haven’t talked at all about ‘happy workers are more productive”. It’s probably true, but behind the words it conjures a rather manipulative image. 100% productivity is not the goal of building a positive workplace culture. We’re beyond the workhouse now.
I’m going to focus on what makes a positive workplace culture in startups. These new businesses are in a great position to form their own culture of How Things Are Done. But there’s no reason your existing workplace or business can’t change. Even a brand new startup has to deal with the challenges of its employees expectations from previous workplaces. The idea of what work culture is like is always going to be informed by outside influences – be they previous jobs or those of friends and family. Keeping your workplace a nice place to be requires management, tact and attention. But the results are better workplaces for all of us. Who’d say no to that?
Building your team
Startups and new businesses are in a great position to build their team’s culture from scratch. In doing so, choosing who to hire often depends as much their skills and experience as their ‘fit’ with the vision of the company’s culture. Individuals and their attitudes matter. This is especially true in small businesses, one person’s where work ethic, management style and sense of humour can reverberate across the whole team.
In established business teams might have grown organically as new staff are hired to fill roles. In both cases, pay attention to the way people interact with each other. If some people work well together and enjoy each other’s company, encourage workgroups or projects in which they can be creative together and attain goals by working together.
Of course, not everyone works well together! I’ve worked with people who didn’t feel like part of the team, felt that their skills weren’t utilised, or that they were disregarded by managers. And also with others who made their colleagues afraid to ask questions, bullied people, or appeared to be arrogant or just lazy. But the worst thing you can do with colleagues like this is put them in a box with a label. Most people change their attitudes in different circumstances. Finding the right fit for someone who rubs the rest of the team up the wrong way, or whose attention is divided can be a challenge. But it’s worth it to make a team that works well together.
Leading by example
Leadership falls on the shoulders of those who take the lead. This could be anyone in a business. Leadership doesn’t mean being the captain and having everyone follow your orders. In fact, in many startups leadership is split between different roles. One person might assume leadership where customer relations are concerned, while another might lead on quality control or new business generation. What’s important no matter the leadership responsibilities involved is leading by example. And there is one simple reason why. Respect.
Respect is earned, and only earned by doing. This doesn’t mean that a leader needs to have the skillset of everyone who they lead, but they should have an understanding of those skills and a willingness to learn about topics outside of their comfort zone. A non-technical leader who can enter a technical dialogue, or visa versa, brings different levels of specific knowledge together rather than separating them.
Five Lessons from great startups
1. No blame culture
Some businesses seem to have a blame culture. Don’t let your business be one! Mistakes happen in any business, and people sometimes make bad choices. When this happens, don’t blame them. Don’t argue who is at fault. It does nothing except poison the business. Look at the problem together and find out the best next steps to take. Blame creates a toxic workplace and lasting grudges. Don’t let blame be a part of your work.
Whether you are working with other team members, external contacts or customers, simply communicating more solves a lot of problems. If you have ever been afraid to ask a question you know how destructive lack of communication can be. Encouraging an open culture where questions can be voiced freely doesn’t just make for a more content workplace, it can help the business as well. Talking about a problem with others can raise new, better and cheaper solutions than keeping issues to yourself.
3. Privacy and clear ways to talk
While communication being open and blame free is important, there are still going to be times when you or your colleagues need to talk privately to someone. While at work we are all still living our lives, and sometimes either work or non-work related issues need to be privately discussed at work. It’s important to know who you can speak to about these issues, and that you can speak in a confidential manner if needs be.
4. Let people do what they do well
A degree of self-direction makes for a fulfilling task. Encouraging new approaches and giving people with different expertise backgrounds the opportunity to do work outside of their normal purview is a really positive thing to permit. If a developer wants to try their hand at marketing, or a customer service executive wants to understand more about procurement, it will both develop the individual and their understanding of the business.
5. Acknowledge achievement across the business
Don’t just reward salespeople. Feeling appreciated is something every employee is due when they’ve done a good job. But so often there are roles in businesses in which achievement goes unnoticed. Solving a problem, successfully dealing with a difficult client, reproducing an elusive bug, finding cheaper or better ways to do things or building something new for the business are all deserving of respect and reward. Don’t let members of your team miss out because their tasks are less visible than others.