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How To Build Startup Culture and Collaboration among employees

Whether implicit or explicit, every startup has a culture and your startup culture is more important than you might first imagine. We meet founders and entrepreneurs every day who only become more determined about their startup culture after they have achieved some success in the market.

However, that determination and focus on your startup culture should be an integral part of your startup journey from day 1, why? Your startup culture can help define many critical success factors as you grow such as talent acquisition, talent retention, employee engagement and competitive advantage.

Don’t worry if you are struggling to think about what your startup culture actually is, unlike your product, platform, sales or profits - your startup culture isn’t something that can be easily quantified or defined and it’s hard to write down every aspect and perspective of your startup culture. But, nothing is lost, and we have written this article specifically to give you startup culture ideas, and how to create an innovative and collaborative team culture of communication. 

So let's kick off by taking a look at the basics of how to build a startup culture, some elements to focus on and some startup culture misconceptions to avoid:

  • As your startup grows, collaboration among employees will continually enhance your culture organically
  • Your startup culture should not be confused with your company mission, vision, and values.
  • Your startup culture can give you tremendous competitive advantage.
  • Your startup culture can help you attract and retain the best talent
  • Your startup culture can positively influence your customer lifetime value
  • An office dog, foosball table, dress code or cool wall art arguably do not form the basis of your startup culture, as much as they can amplify your culture positively, in turn, these things only plaster over small cracks if you don’t have solid culture foundations.

As your startup grows your culture will evolve and change fluidly – it doesn’t necessarily need to be curated but will alter as circumstances, goals and opportunities arise. It is important you align your culture with the personal needs and motivations of your team, it can help improve collaboration among employees and empower your startup to thrive.

The four basic attributes of culture

As we previously identified, startup culture isn’t easily defined because it is so different from startup to startup. There is no cookie cutter for the perfect startup culture and indeed, there are countless models and methods available to think about. 

Before we delve deeper into the aspects of culture, let’s look at the four basic attributes of any business culture:

Shared

From country to country, social groups, friends and business, culture doesn’t exist in isolation but rather is a shared concept. It guides individual and group behaviour, overseeing what is right and wrong – in business the shared attribute within culture allows us to align to shared goals, share in success, collaborate across teams and share knowledge with one another.

Interpretation

Your startup culture influences every aspect of your business. And, although we share in that culture as a team, how we interpret the overall culture will vary on an individual level. 

Sustainable

Culture is long lasting, it’s not a flash in the pan. Something positive in your culture today will continue to influence every aspect of your business for many years to come. The evidence between a startup culture which embodies collaboration at its core and the positive long term effects this has on talent acquisition, talent retention, employee engagement and competitive advantage is increasing.

(Keep an eye out for our upcoming blog: Overcoming startup failure reasons by improving collaboration among employees)

Implicit

While some companies are very explicit with linking their culture to their brand and marketing, arguably culture is implicit and almost autonomous at times, much the same as breathing – you’re aware of it sometimes but not always, you don’t always control it but it is there and vital to your well-being. As employees or leadership teams we instinctively interact with our startup’s culture in most things that we do. We don’t follow a startup culture playbook, but every working day we do everything we can to help ourselves, colleagues and customers be more successful. This is implicit culture.

Perspectives of organisational culture

So if we think about the attributes of culture as the immovable forces, then we need to think about the perspectives of culture too. The perspective of a startup culture is what makes us humans -  it is the heart, veins, muscles, bones that enables your startup to move and adapt. The explicit aspects and perspectives of your startup culture is the skin - it is the initiatives put in place, it is how the leadership teams will refer to their culture, it is the mantra of culture disguise – if you have ever been sat in a meeting and heard the words “High Performance Sales Culture” you will already have a good understanding about the aspects and perspectives of business culture.

To add more context to these perspectives of culture, we have highlighted some of the most common culture perspectives:

The Entrepreneurial Culture

The blueprint of an entrepreneurial culture is when every individual in your startup feels fully engaged and laser focused on learning fast and adapting even faster. People initiate new activities that will benefit your company, take ownership of their work, and are willingly responsible for the outcomes. They have a heightened sense of emotional links to the company.

People that thrive in an entrepreneurial startup culture are those that are not afraid to take initiative and exhibit confidence in their decisions. 

We see many startups leap straight from an Entrepreneurial Culture to a High Performance Sales Culture when trying to scale, and the startups which fail to scale are typically the startups who put more effort into a ‘push sell’ mentality rather than focusing on innovation and collaboration.

The High Performance Sales Culture

For any startup considering terming your culture perspective as ‘High Performance Sales’ – proceed with caution.

Arguably, this culture is no longer fit for purpose. In the last 10 years we have experienced many evolution's in sales, marketing and buyer behaviours, yet still to this day, many organisations who adopt this culture perspective prioritise a ‘hard push’ sales mentality over and above the needs, wants and desires of the customer, which in turn creates no long term growth opportunities.

In my personal experience, organisations who put the ‘Closer(s)’ on the pedestal are typically the organisations who struggle most with sales and marketing alignment, suffer with talent burnout and high churn rates.

Angry businesswoman shouting on phone in office

The Innovation Culture

In our modern age of Deep Tech, AI, Unified Commerce, Machine Learning, Self-Driving Cars and Big Data, a culture of innovation is highly valued and necessary for the ongoing success of many startups. 

A culture of innovation doesn’t solely focus on the new ideas, it is a successful culture due to the rigorous processes typically found to bring those ideas to fruition.

When innovation is crucial for your startup success, having a diverse set of personalities will enable ideas to mature faster and more efficiently. 

While some people may be better at the creative elements of innovation, others may be more adept at implementing the processes to bring them to life. 

A culture of innovation also tends to lend itself to evolving into or becoming an integral part of your startup perspective.

The Collaboration Culture

Historically many organisations talk a good game about how collaboration drives innovation. But in reality when you look further into the foundations of how they are building collaborative cultures, there's not much substance behind all their talk.

Everyone loves a good brainstorming session, but applying this every once in a while doesn’t form a culture of collaboration. Neither does giving your team access to every collaboration tool on the market.

With that said, the effects on business that Covid has had, means that digital transformation, hybrid working, work from home or anywhere strategies have been fast tracked and collaboration technology plays a more important role in culture than ever before.

To adopt a true Startup Collaboration Culture your critical success factor is to focus on your employees, trust in them, give them the space to innovate, fail, learn and succeed, make information about your startup readily available and easy to find, be deliberate when creating internal processes so that collaboration is front and centre of everyone’s working day.

Finally, analyse how your teams collaborate and communicate, the power of team collaboration will naturally improve employee engagement and employee productivity and help you overcome common frictions when defining your culture:

  • Departments operate in isolation or are even at odds with each other – Understanding how your teams communicate and collaborate will enable you to improve what ultimately drives your success: Your Employees.
  • Employees know where problems are and how to solve them, or how things could be done better. But many are afraid to share ideas and speak up. – Again, understanding how your teams communicate and collaborate will enable you to improve what ultimately drives your success: Your Employees.
  • Defining continuous improvement processes as you scale - A culture of collaboration supports your startup while you scale; it helps your teams to learn new things and implement them effectively with your processes, it identifies growth challenges quickly and solutions to overcome these challenges. A collaborative startup culture is multi-faceted, agile and will give your startup a solid foundation for what ultimately drives your success: Your Employees.

Wrapping Up

Collaboration is the conduit to success for many startups. Collaboration draws on the best elements from many other common culture perspectives, and well, empowers your employees to collaborate and define the best solutions to give your startup a true competitive advantage. With collaboration at the core of your startup culture it will organically span out to your customers and partners, this in turn will provide an always open channel for learning, feedback, market positioning, buyer needs analysis plus many more benefits to your startup succeed.

 If your startup is using Slack or Gsuite as part of your collaboration tools, schedule a short demo with us and find out how understanding Slack Analytics and GSuite Meeting Effectiveness can enhance your startup collaboration culture.

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