Company culture can make or break a business. I’ve witnessed it in several companies that I’ve both started and been a part of. In my experience leading teams over the past 10 years, the culture of a startup is almost always dictated by the CEO.
When I was running an agency eight years ago, my business was struggling. I let this impact the culture of our team. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, this was de-motivating our entire company so much that we ended up closing shop and letting everyone go. Since my failure, I’ve learned that in order to succeed in business, you have to succeed in relationships. You have to motivate your employees to the point they would do anything for the business. Here are a few tips I’ve used over the years to help grow a successful company by motivating my team members.
1. Be honest — all the time. No company is perfect or successful all the time. In order for your whole team to be on board with you, you have to be as honest as you can about your accomplishments, potential setbacks and what you need from your team. Better communication about common goals yields better results.
2. Manage employees from a distance. While it’s tempting to micromanage every moving part of your company, you’re better off taking a step back and allowing your employees to gain more confidence on their own, away from your watchful eyes, knowing that they have your full trust. Watching from a distance has allowed several intrapreneurs to grow in our company. Had I not just stepped back and watched, they wouldn’t have been able to stand out and shine.
3. Create short-term goals for every department, and communicate through team leads. People maintain their motivation in and out of the office when they’re looking ahead at the next goal post. An abstract endpoint only produces sporadic bursts of motivation. But small, manageable daily or weekly tasks keep people on track. Rather than hold your employees’ hands through their smaller tasks, you should consider communication through team leads in your company, diversifying the leadership and letting each part of the company move on its own.
4. Hold small meetings and all-inclusive social activities. We’ve all been through enough slow, pointless meetings to know that whenever important issues need to be discussed, it should only involve relevant people and be quick and focused on finding a solution. I find that not being present at every meeting empowers groups to work independently. While meetings should stay small, other non-work social activities should be totally inclusive of the team so everyone feels involved.
5. Have a fun chat. Whether your company mostly interacts over Slack, Google Hangouts or another internal messaging system, there should be a group chat devoted to non-work-related fun. Whether management should be involvement depends on its relationship to the rest of the company. A #random channel or a fun chat keeps employees feeling socially buoyed even in stressful times and fosters an environment where people can open up to each other with a sense of levity. We also like to go on daily walks, which allow us to have fun chats outside of work.
6. Find a shared interest with your team. What boosts team morale more than cheering for the same team? If your company has a shared interest in, for example, the Olympics or watching an Apple keynote presentation, you can surprise your employees by projecting an important live game or the keynote during work hours. If your city’s hockey team has made the Stanley Cup playoffs or your football team is in the Super Bowl, you can hold a low-stakes betting pool or fantasy draft. If very few people care about sports in your office, maybe an Oscar pool will appease the movie buffs in your company.
7. Encourage individuals to have ideas and pursue new responsibilities. One of the unique benefits of working for a startup is the ability to move laterally into other roles and discover new skills. A good company empowers its employees across all levels to pursue more responsibilities, not necessarily just in the roles they were hired for. They should also be encouraged to express new ideas for projects that align with the brand. It took just a few team members at Airbnb, for example, to pursue an idea that resulted in 1,400 people opening up their homes as temporary housing for people displaced by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Since then, the disaster response initiative has helped people all over the world find shelter.
8. Celebrate successes. In a startup, where there often isn’t a lot of money to spend on elaborate parties, expensive team retreats or even happy hours outside of the office, the thing that is most worth celebrating is success.
Celebrating individual success reminds team members that they are valued and can impart change. Team success means that the ship is moving further out into the larger waters. Success defines the hope that startups are struggling against the odds.