The trajectory of every startup is different, and the path to growth varies. Some companies may raise capital early on and hire quickly. Others may stay lean, and squeeze as much productivity as possible out of limited resources before starting to scale. In either case, once your team starts to grow, nurturing your startup culture is a challenge.
At my current company, we've done the latter. We've had a lean team for several years, but in 2017, we nearly doubled our full-time employees. It's been an incredibly exciting time, but it's also been a challenge.
Managing your company culture during this transition is incredibly difficult. These tips will help.
Make it a C-level priority.
As a leader, you must be the change you want to see; new initiatives should come top down. There's no better way to show your team it's a priority.
In my current company, I set up a "social committee" to brainstorm ideas, organize activities, and keep a pulse on the team. We've done a lot of cool stuff because of this committee. We held "Logtoberfest" in September, did a Boston citywide scavenger hunt, and we've hosted Flannel Fridays with beer and a few games of Jackbox. Be sure to encourage feedback and ask for new ideas from your whole team.
Hire people who'll fit.
Research from Gallup found that people who have a best friend at work are 27 percent more likely to feel that the mission of their company makes them feel their job is important, and 37 percent more likely to have someone encourage their development at work. Put simply: having friends at work makes a difference.
Make this possible by hiring the right people. All too often, when you're eager to fill a role, it can be easy to jump the gun. Don't. Wait until you find candidates who fit with your team.
To do this, you need to understand what you value. For me, this is a balanced combination of technical skills, enthusiasm, a bit of quirkiness, and the ability to learn. My current team is full of self-declared nerds. It's what makes us passionate about what we do.
Teach everyone your company history.
This goes beyond your mission (though that's important too). Everyone should know the history of how your company formed: ups and downs, original team members, how you've grown, etc. This information helps newer employees understand how the dynamic has been in the past.
Does that mean it needs to stay the same? Absolutely not. But it provides helpful context in which your new team members can chart their path. Our content manager tells me that this information has been vital to learning how to present new ideas and understanding why decisions are made. It really helps.
Understand project ownership.
An article published in Harvard Business Review notes that over the past two decades, the time spent by both managers and employees in collaborative activities has increased by 50 percent or more. As your team grows, there will be more voices in that collaboration. That's a good thing. But you must find a way to manage it all.
With my team, everyone cares so much about their piece of a project that we were hitting decision-making conflicts. To solve this, we added an "Owner" tag to all our projects in Asana, our day-to-day task management tool. Now, when we kick off a project, we identify the project owner as a final decision maker. This helps our projects run smoothly.
Take a communication workshop.
In any organization, different working styles can occasionally cause conflict. This conflict can be healthy -- it challenges others to bring their best ideas forward and can ultimately provide you with better results. But sometimes, it hurts morale and weakens productivity.
For a few months this year, my team was experiencing the latter. To help, we tried an Insights-based communication workshop. This workshop placed us each into one of four personality categories -- red, blue, green, and yellow. It opened up a dialogue and provided suggestions for how to communicate with other color categories.
In all, cultural shifts may be inevitable during a growth stage, but these tips will help you (and your team) stay sane.