A healthy company culture is one of the most crucial success factors in starting a new business. Companies that make team building a top priority have a leg up on the competition, which is why culture and perks get so much attention in the startup world. Teams must feel a sense of camaraderie and have the desire to work hard with each other to face the difficult task of building a business from the ground up.
As the CEO of Grovo, a fast-growing NYC startup, I’ve learned this all too well. From the early days we made it a point to create a transparent, all-inclusive culture. One of the things we love to do is publicly reward individual success and team accomplishments. Each sale, content release, and completed engineering task is announced to the whole company with a loud gong, animated musical interlude, or a bell. This means the whole office is party to everyone’s successes.
But while growth is obviously a good thing, it can also force startup leaders to reevaluate traditions like these that were once cornerstones. Processes that worked with smaller teams become less efficient as a team grows. Coordinating even simple things like meetings, desk assignments and retreats with a rapidly growing team can quickly become problematic.
Below are a few examples of the problems we ran into, and how we solved them as our numbers swelled.
Company meetings–whether they deal with hiring, financing, success, or failure–can help ensure that everyone knows the company priorities and allows everyone to share what they’re working on, providing top-down transparency.
However, as a company grows, these types of meetings can become overwhelmingly time-consuming. At around 50 employees, our own weekly meetings became so long that we made the mistake of discontinuing them altogether. But the team, feeling deprived of what had once been a transparent environment, worked together to revamp the meetings.
Here’s how we fixed them: We added a time limit for each contributor, which created a light-hearted competition to see who could speak their piece fastest, and forced everyone to reduce their message down to the most important points. Including a fun prompt like asking everyone what they’re doing over the upcoming weekend can also keep meetings interesting and promote team bonds.
Weekend retreats feature bonding activities of all sorts, from meals and sports to company trivia sessions and personal interest presentations, and allow employees a chance to interact with coworkers they normally wouldn’t. This is an important aspect that promotes cross-team bonds that carry over into the workweek.
But coordinating a weekend retreat for 50 people is a lot harder than coordinating one for 15, so it’s important to keep in mind that your criteria for such team outings may need to be flexible as your team grows. Consider holding more frequent smaller-scale outings, with teams from different departments spending time together. You can also host group workouts open to everyone in the company.
Your company’s office has a big impact on employee mindset, but cool furniture alone doesn’t establish culture. It helps, but it needs context.
As a team grows, this is one of the first things that needs addressing. Our team is outgrowing its current office, and the process of finding new headquarters in a space that fits our existing culture has proven more difficult than expected. And we aren’t the only ones with this problem.
Something we’ve tried is moving part of the team to a temporary workspace while we find a larger office. We still hold recurring inter-office meetings in order to spend time together as a team. Simply creating a place for people to hang out and spend time is important, so whether that means putting a couple beanbags in the corner or a cereal bar in the kitchen, just do what works for your team.
These modifications to existing systems allow a company to survive growing pains. It’s important to work as a team to find possible solutions that keep your company culture intact. Refreshing existing traditions to ensure they’re best for the team is great, but sometimes you need to throw something new at the group. A surprise treat or activity can really boost morale, something like unscheduled catered lunches, stress ball fights and evening happy hours.
When starting a business, it’s obviously important to focus on your strategy and product, but your team culture shouldn’t be any less important. Growing a business only happens if everyone loves working with each other. Keeping everything efficient despite growing pains is a challenge for any growing business, and not doing so has crippled even companies that were deemed too good to fail.
With a team that loves working together, intelligent process reflection, and a willingness to adapt to changing conditions, the sky is the limit for any business.
—Jeff Fernandez is co-founder and CEO of Grovo Learning, Inc., which is working to empower the digital workforce with a truly simple end-to-end training solution that delivers the best results in the shortest time. He is also a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.