A Blueprint for Building a Collaborative Startup Culture

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Culture is driven from the top down. Yet most founders have a difficult time articulating their culture beyond the amenities their startup offers: Catered meals. Pet-friendly workspaces. Unlimited paid time off. Etc.

But a company’s culture is deeper than that. It’s an ideology, a way of being, and a mindset. It’s the intangibles that get your talent engaged, motivated, and wanting to do their best work.

So What Is Collaboration?

Bringing people together to arrive at a solution faster and easier than had it been done alone: That’s collaboration in a nutshell.

You innovate, solve problems together, bring together cross-functional expertise and knowledge to build an app, see a new solution, or tackle a coding issue. That’s how most startups see collaboration. But it’s also the ability to bring people together to talk about difficult topics. Conflict is inevitable, and in startups, where you’re bringing different people together to work on projects, personality clashes are all too common. So building that collaborative startup culture also requires seeing conflict as a positive thing, building out the values and processes necessary to leverage its beneficial qualities.

Conflict leads to better solutions, higher-quality work, and hyper-motivated employees, because disagreement is seen as a way of generating solutions that may not be readily available.

To create that culture of collaboration and push past resistance, startup founders should do the following.

1. Get Clear on Your Purpose and Values

If you can’t get beyond the surface-level responses to these questions, chances are your employees won’t be able to either. Sit with these questions, and if you can’t find answers that passionately drive you forward, then go at it again, because this is what will inspire everyone in the company and motivate them when the going gets tough.

2. Encourage Bottom-Up Feedback Early On

Your employees are the ones on the front lines, the ones embodying your startup’s values and communicating its mission to customers. Let them tell you what’s working and what isn’t.

This is especially true in meetings. Take some intentional time before, during, or after the meeting has concluded to solicit feedback. If you see the one man who stays in himself not offer any feedback for the fifth time in a row, go to him one-on-one and encourage him to talk about anything he sees that needs improvement. The result may surprise you.

Employees who feel heard ultimately work harder and are more efficient in the long run.

3. Set Up Processes and Technologies That Empower People

4. Reward Collaboration Openly

Collaboration sometimes doesn’t come easy, and most employees may not know what collaboration actually is beyond just working together toward a shared goal. You’ll need to make the implicit explicit by acknowledging those collaborative endeavors that employees naturally do when they’re enthralled with their work. Bring up that stellar employee’s work at the next company meeting. Start a monthly employee mention where someone did a fabulous thing. Make a happy hour event all about something awesome a team did.

Create the culture that acknowledges the good while staying abreast of all the things your high-paced startup is doing well.

5. Have Disagreements Respectfully

That doesn’t mean fighting it out. It means learning how to hash things out in a collaborative way so that whatever solution is presented integrates everyone’s expertise and knowledge base. Disagreements, if carried out respectfully, put everyone’s cards on the table and present solutions that might not have been apparent before.

6. Harness Transparency and Build Trust

Startup founders can get into trouble when they don’t communicate certain facts to their employees. But it’s all a balancing act too. The amount of transparency founders exhibit will be the same amount their employees exhibit. In the high-risk environment of startups, that is the social currency needed to make your business a success.

7. Leverage Individual Employee Talents

CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

As people start to work together, untapped talents become apparent. Leverage those talents by developing a method for spotting them. Give employees opportunities to vocalize them. For example, if you have a marketing director who’s consistently bringing in outside business, notice that. Develop her strategic partnerships skills and leverage them. A collaborative startup culture knows how to train employees for growth, retain them, and use their skills collaboratively toward an intended purpose.

Bottom Line: Creating a collaborative startup culture starts from the top, and is heavily influenced by the early decisions you make when your startup is scaling. Develop a culture that rewards innovation and disagreement and empowers its employees. That’s how a high-paced startup fuses collaboration into all areas of its culture to ultimately create an environment where everyone can thrive.

This post originally appeared on Singularity Hub, and is published here with their permission.

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I help founders and business leaders negotiate agreements and resolve disputes. Columbia University Educated 🎓 . More at www.collabshq.com

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