The Startup Culture

Pavel Malos
Sep 4, 2018 · 5 min read
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Office App by Julian Burford

Remarkable teams are a product of culture and change management. Culture represents the environment, ecology, and underlying intentions of an organisation.

This is why it is such an important topic to organisational psychologists. Simply put, culture is both the cause and effect of an organisation's greatness or its dysfunction.

When it comes to building remarkable teams, culture is the cause on four different levels:

1) Materially, culture is the fabric of the relations between members.

2) Formally, culture represents the mostly unspoken rules that drive the organisation, which influence the nature of team building.

3) Culture is also the efficient cause of an organisation's psychology. One way this happens, is when the co founders, either knowingly or (usually) unknowingly bring in the dynamics that create the company’s overall nature and mood (i.e. the degree of function and dysfunction present). This in turn determines the kind of teams that develop.

4) Culture represents the aims and purposes of the organisation. Goals shape the organisation by pulling it into existence. This is similar to the way the direction you choose, determines the type of journey you experience. And so, the way you first think about and start a project or business is of seminal importance. Decisions made early have an exponential impact on later efforts, including team building. The way an organisations purpose influences its culture is known as the final cause.

Culture Chasm

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Chasm by Molly Storm Jackson

When we think about startup cultures, we imagine ping pong tables, kegerators, and Nerf guns. More importantly, we envision an a feeling of pride and mutual loyalty that drives employees to happily burn the midnight oil to build the next big thing.

However, this startup cultural utopia invariably hits a rough patch for about 70% of startups in years three to four, regardless of how happy the team was before. This is called the “cultural chasm.”

In fact, the faster the startup grew, the deeper the cultural chasm is that they had to overcome. Put another way, a company can’t speed their way through the cultural chasm.

At the same time, companies that cross the cultural chasm see a marked rebound in their culture starting in years five and six, although not returning to the “honeymoon” of the startup’s early days.

The scale stage is happening.

Founders should set expectations with their early employees that these changes are a natural part of the firm’s success.

By tailoring their message differently for the early adopters who cherished the honeymoon period and for the next group of employees, founders and the companies they lead will be able to navigate the chasm more adeptly.

Regardless of how fast the company is growing, the founders will not be able to outrun the chasm. Instead, they should focus on culture during the company’s earliest days, and pay careful attention to transparency, recognition, and monitoring their progress. This is the best way to position the company to rebound higher and quicker out of the cultural chasm.

Start with principles

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Psychological Rules by Oliwia Przybyła

It is essential to build in a framework of virtuous and ethical principles. There are two main categories of virtuous principles: 1) emotional capacity and 2) interactive capacity:

Emotional Capacity involves:

  • Empathy — the ability to feel what others feel
  • Openness — willingness to explore and to change
  • Emotional availability — capacity to share and express
  • Fortitude — tolerance for stress, uncertainty, or chaos
  • Emotional control — successful anger and/or frustration management
  • Humility — acceptance of criticism and/or direction
  • Consideration — social awareness, compunction, compassion, inclination for kindness
  • Curiosity — inclination to learn
  • Zest — enthusiasm for life, work, learning…

Interactive capacity includes:

  • Mutualism — ability to see your success in the success of others
  • Perspective — ability to see or sense the big picture, long-term thinking
  • Self-sacrificing — willingness to give personal gain for the gain of others
  • Rational capacity — ability to set aside emotional agendas
  • Cooperation — willingness to collaborate
  • Systems intelligence — sensing the big picture and how things connect
  • Benevolence — depth of commitment to not cause pain or suffering
  • Integrity — ability to inspire/engender trust and loyalty
  • Similar to creating a learning environment, building an organisation that not only supports virtuous principles but also causes them, requires you to invest heavily in leadership. Your dedication to creating a remarkable environment is crucial.

One of the most obvious steps toward creating a virtue-inducing environment is to look at your own level of emotional and interactive capacity.

You (and your co-founders) should evaluate yourself using the above list of principles. Obviously, your behaviour is one of the most important influences on your teams and your culture. An honest self-evaluation will tell you where you have to increase your emotional and interactive skills.

Beyond your own comportment, much can be done to induce virtuous behaviours. You begin with a sincere and explicit commitment to the betterment of all stakeholders. This means partners, investors, employees, customers and the greater community.

You must have an attitude of, “Everybody wins or the game’s not worth playing.” Even competitors can win in this scenario, because, you set the standards. One way this will affect the competition for the better, is that you will attract the better employees who can bring you better and more customers. The competition then has to come up to your standards or drop out. (This is a bit simplified and is not always the case, but is a pattern we can expect to see increase in the future).

Change is never easy. It requires the time to implement, the patience to discuss, and the willingness to have productive disagreements.

Although most founders will do anything for their company’s success, sometimes continued success requires that they hand over the reins in order to help the organisation evolve.

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The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +730K people. Follow to join our community.

Pavel Malos

Written by

Growth Hacker @HomeFinders & Directimo | Creating digital experiences

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +730K people. Follow to join our community.

Pavel Malos

Written by

Growth Hacker @HomeFinders & Directimo | Creating digital experiences

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +730K people. Follow to join our community.

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