Your Startup Team Needs A Safety Net — Here’s How We Created One
At the end of last year, Atomico released its 2017 State of European Tech Report. Shining a light on the brilliant tech startups coming out of Europe, including a high number of unicorns, it successfully dispels the lingering idea that Silicon Valley is the only productive component of the tech ecosystem.
But as fascinating as this data is, it overlooks some of the qualitative differences between Europe and the US — and in particular, differences in team culture. How do we work differently — and is there such thing as a ‘best’ way to run a team?
At Sparrho, we’re driven to create a team culture that is founded on more than just an open-plan office space and drinks on Fridays: we believe that a good culture is a safety net, giving our team the security to take risks and aim high without the restrictive fear of failure or recrimination. So what are the cornerstones of our culture?
1. Put your team’s mental and physical health first
If each team member grows individually, a business will grow exponentially — and one of the most detrimental things a leader can do in terms of team growth is to ignore team health. I believe in putting well-being first: particularly when it comes to mental health. Being invisible to the eye, mental health problems are all too easy to overlook or forget about, and yet are one of the biggest drivers of long-term absence and unproductivity at work.
In the tech industry, we are dealing with smart people who have a notable tendency to overthink and overwork, so we need to make sure that our working style and ethos prioritises flexibility in order that team mental health isn’t jeopardised.
With open retrospectives at the end of each project, we allow members of the team to discuss their difficulties, share responsibility for aspects of the project that didn’t work out, and praise each other for their successes.
2. Invest in objective help from outside
This year, we’ve begun to invest in third-party support from a language and behaviour analyst who observes individual language patterns to gain perspective on how we work — and to allow our team to voice their concerns to someone on the outside.
There is only so much a senior manager or team leader can see from her vantage point, and bringing in an impartial observer allows us to spot problems or potential roadblocks that we might have otherwise missed.
This also encourages the development of self-awareness in our team: once we know how our colleagues deal with problems and work towards solutions, we can each tailor our approaches to suit that.
Ultimately, the most valuable personal asset for an aspiring founder is a detailed knowledge of one’s own character. Understanding yourself and your strengths and weaknesses is absolutely key for finding a suitable co-founder and building a team of equally passionate, complementary people.
Socrates taught that the unexamined life is not worth living — and that’s certainly true when it comes to entrepreneurship.
3. Cross-functional teams break up silos in skill sets
Previously, our team was grouped by function. Marketing, product and design, and sales were all seen as separate groups with separate functions, unintentionally implying the idea that we had nothing to learn from one another.
Our new cross-functional teams have developers, designers, salespeople and marketers working together, dismantling the barriers between functionality-focused teams that could be skewed towards a particular type of person.
As well as shaking up diversity in the team as a whole, the initiative has allowed us to make a conscious effort to look beyond the differences in our skills and come closer together as a group, learning from and growing with each other. It’s also improved how well, and how often, we communicate — and that can never be a bad thing.
4. Never be afraid to make mistakes — make them quickly and often
By far the fastest way to learn is by trial and error. It’s a principle that experimenters and researchers know well, but yet that isn’t always applied when it comes to business.
Any entrepreneur is bound to fail repeatedly: the longer your period of hesitation before action, the longer you lose out on important opportunities for learning and growth.
As clichéd as it sounds, it really isn’t about the destination — the journey is far more important. The networks that you make and the people that you meet along the way will stay with you for life, even if your startup doesn’t.
What are you and your team doing to improve your culture — and is it something we should be doing too? Let us know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.