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The founding team lays the foundation for culture, processes and norms that will shape a company for years to come. With limited resources and high uncertainty in the early days, startups must maximize the collective intelligence, energy and motivation of their people. This requires forming a team of the right “culture-fits” who share the same vision and values and then fostering an environment of flexibility, autonomy, feedback and continuous learning.
As an early employee or founder of a startup, forming the initial team falls on your shoulders. The people you hire in the first few months will significantly impact your company’s trajectory. So how do you recruit and develop the team that will propel your vision forward? Here are the top 10 things I believe you must consider.
Related: How Your Company Culture Can Be a Force Multiplier (For the Good and the Bad)
1. Hire people who share the same vision and values
The most important factor for team cohesion is whether team members share the same vision and values for what the startup is trying to achieve. Discuss the company vision, goals and culture in detail during the hiring process. Bring candidates into discussions with the founding team to gauge their opinions and fit. Hiring the right culture fit is more important than hiring the best skills at the early stage.
Related: How to Hire Someone Aligned With the Company’s Mission
2. Focus on high effort and willingness to learn
More than specific skill sets, look for candidates who demonstrate a high level of effort, willingness to learn and ability to adapt and grow. Early-stage startups require employees to learn new skills, pivot direction and handle multiple roles. Prioritize candidates who demonstrate a growth mindset, self-motivation,and initiative. You can teach skills but not attitudes.
3. Build a flexibility-first organizational structure
Rather than rigid roles and job descriptions, develop a flexible organizational structure where employees can wear multiple hats and take on new responsibilities as needed. Encourage team members to step up and volunteer when help is needed. Focus on outcomes over fixed tasks and micromanagement. Allow autonomy and trust people to get the job done.
Related: Workplace Flexibility Can Impact How You Attract, Hire, And Retain Talent
4. Form cross-functional, collaborative teams
Break down silos between different functions like engineering, design, marketing, etc. Bring team members from diverse backgrounds together into collaborative project teams. Cross-functional teams foster communication, spark innovation and create a culture of sharing knowledge and helping one another. Look for candidates who demonstrate good collaboration and communication skills.
5. Hire people smarter than yourself
The best startup teams hire people who are smarter and more capable than the founders. Even if a candidate challenges your ideas, that can be good. Hire team members who can provide a different and valuable perspective, even if it means your initial vision needs to evolve. Your job as a leader is to synthesize the best ideas, not have all the answers from the start.
Related: How to Find, Hire (and Fire!) Rockstar Employees
6. Don’t be afraid of attitude, passion and ego
While attitude and ego can cause issues in larger companies, they can be an asset in early-stage startups if channeled properly. Look for candidates who demonstrate passion and a competitive spirit. An element of healthy ego and ambition can provide the fire and motivation needed in the early stages. Just ensure you have the leadership skills to navigate any potential conflicts constructively.
7. Build a feedback-first culture
Establish processes and norms where team members freely share feedback with one another to improve and grow together as a unit. Schedule weekly one-on-ones and retrospectives where individuals can voice their opinions openly. A feedback-first culture allows everyone to bring their best ideas to the table and quickly course correct when needed. Transparency and psychological safety are key.
8. Create a productive work environment
Provide the tools, resources and workspace that allow employees to do their best work. This may mean flexible hours, coffee bars, game rooms, top-notch hardware and software, or whatever helps people stay productive and motivated. The details will differ for each team, so actively solicit feedback and experiment to find what works. A ‘hustle culture’ itself is not productive — create an environment where people thrive.
Related: Why Hustle Culture Might Be Toxic to Your Business
9. Invest in meaningful teambuilding
Schedule regular team outings, events and activities that allow employees to bond beyond work. Get to know each other on a personal level and build strong interpersonal relationships and trust. Team building should not feel forced – start small and organize events that team members genuinely enjoy. Seeing the human side of coworkers fosters empathy, collaboration and psychological safety.
10. Lead by example and show vulnerability as a founder
As a founder or early employee, set the tone from the top by rolling up your sleeves, taking on the toughest tasks, admitting mistakes and showing genuine appreciation and care for team members. Be vulnerable and honest about challenges and uncertainties. Leading by example and creating a transparent, humble culture will inspire others to give their best. Be careful not to take more credit than you deserve.
As SnapBlooms continues to grow, we are mindful that our people and culture will ultimately determine our success or failure. And we foster an environment of transparency, feedback and experimentation to learn and adapt as an organization quickly. Our hope is that by following these principles, we can build an effective team culture that empowers us to revolutionize the floral industry.
The right people are your most valuable resource as a founder. So invest heavily in recruiting, developing and keeping your early team members happy. The efforts you make now will pay enormous dividends as your startup scales and your initial team members become the culture carriers that onboard future hires!
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