We’re all familiar with the quintessential idea of startup culture: the hoodies, the gadgets, the office games. Regardless of how one feels about the merit of these characteristics, their contribution to a seemingly contagious startup culture cannot be ignored.
It’s not all fun and games.
This startup environment has without a doubt cultivated a culture of creativity among startup companies, allowing teams to freely explore ideas, take risks, and ultimately engage in uninhibited innovation. The nascent stages of startup cohesion are often idealized: team wide meetings, sense of identity, ubiquitous passion. Often however, when startups scale, the feasibility of previously universal norms becomes impractical.
It varies from company to company, but this challenge often arises when the team is too large to fit comfortably in one room for a meeting. Gone are the days of easy company-wide check-ins. Many employees that had formerly taken on a “jack of all trades” persona have shifted and specialized in a specific department, changing the overall dynamics of the company.
So how does one forge a path forward that combines necessary growth while maintaining a culture that encourages innovation? First and foremost, a company-wide commitment to continuous innovation and progress is paramount. It sounds redundant—of course companies want progress—but it is the specific type of progress—progress driven by an equal blend of creativity and data—that is of the utmost importance.
So what can be done about it?
In the startup world we’re all about actionable items, so breaking down this seemingly daunting task is essential. Luckily, in the tech industry we have some really great—and highly innovative—role models. Think about Google and how their commitment to creative expansion has allowed them to be at the forefront of innovation for years. To truly maintain and cultivate genuine innovation in your company you must commit to promoting three sets of values:
Failing & Learning
You’ve heard it a million times, but that’s because it is true: it is ok to fail. You must emphasize learning from failure in your growing company. One of the major problems that companies face as they grow is a shift away from risk taking, both at the individual and aggregate level. Why is this? Team members have more specific work tasks, there are more clearly defined goals and metrics, and more hierarchical oversight can sometimes stifle opportunity for individual risk.
These are not bad things in and of themselves. However, do not let the aggregate of new structural norms hinder independent thought and action. Instead, set broad goals and allow employees to propose their own solutions; emphasize a (metrics supported!) trial and error approach to problem solving; and maintain an overarching commitment to company mission.
Accountability & Recognition
Recognize employees for their work. It’s motivational, costs very little (if anything) to you, has massive potential benefits for your company, and just feels good. Holding employees individually accountable promotes ownership and pride in work. This also allows managers to take a step back and enables employees to approach projects in independent and creative ways.
Communication & Sharing
Open constructive lines of communication (both ways!)—find out what works for your company and commit to it. Share top down, bottom up, and horizontally across teams as you see fit. Give people the opportunity to brainstorm new ideas and problem solve in teams.
Don’t overwhelm employees with unnecessary information, have discretion, but be inclusive. Everybody can learn something from someone else: your people are your biggest asset; don’t let it go to waste.
A commitment to these values at all levels of the company ensures that no team must sacrifice innovation for growth. If nurtured, an innovative mindset can persist at any stage.
Image Credit: CC by Steven Zwerink