There’s a dark side to startups, though – because no one knows what the future holds, working for one can be somewhat frightening. Leaders absolutely have to keep their teams motivated and help them fight through feelings of apprehension. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years for keeping startup teams motivated.
- Make it fun
It doesn’t matter what you’re working on, you need to find a fun aspect to help motivate your team. I’ve seen people work from home, stay out until the sun comes up, and work 15 hours a day for a week. These things are exhausting, but not nearly as bad as working past the point of boredom. In a startup, boredom can be your worst enemy. When you start feeling disinterested in your day-to-day tasks, you need to find something that will keep you engaged.
Involving the team in the business: most startups start out with a team of 2. By keeping your team involved, it gives them a sense of ownership and they become more motivated to push the objective as a team.
Silver Lining: If you’re working in a small startup, you may have to do most of the grunt work. And that’s okay. If your team thinks of themselves as part of a bigger machine, it will keep them motivated.
- Be challenging
Even though you have to instill a sense of inevitability in your team, you don’t want them to quit. The fact is there aren’t a lot of jobs out there that are exciting. This can make it difficult for some people to stay positive about their work. If you can teach your team how to adjust their goals according to the realities of their work, you’ll have happier (and more productive) people.
I’ve seen some great examples where leadership found ways to overcome challenging markets, changing business conditions, and even other new ideas. Small startups can face challenges that are simply not present for much larger companies.
- Be flexible
One thing to remember about working in startups is that it’s not like you’ll be limited to one position. While this can be especially exciting for someone in their 20s, getting super excited about the opportunity to be experienced and given a promotion and a title is admirable, but in the end, you’re still working for someone who owns your company, and that can be paralyzing for some people. Smaller startups can sometimes be more like startups themselves – they’re so small, flexible, and new that it’s hard to keep some things in mind.
This is ultimately why it’s critical for the leaders to be flexible. You have to be able to adjust your plans on the fly and be willing to make hard decisions when the time comes. Being able to do this gives your team a lot more confidence, and it’s really no different than what leaders do at larger companies.
- Be communicative
Part of developing a startup is that you’ll need to communicate with potential investors, partners, and customers. With the increasing broadband penetration in the world, more and more people are becoming aware of startups. So as a startup leader, you have to stick out from the crowd.
So how do you show your team that you’ll be communicative? You open up the channels of communication with your team. You’ve got different things for different people to engage with, so that they know if they should be communicating with you directly, or through someone else. The solutions I’ve seen work best are to create IRC channels, asking people to sign up, and being very communicative with the team itself.
Don’t let the ambiguity of your situation discourage you. You need to be flexible but your position is secure, and with the management skills I’ve shown in the previous section, you can keep your team motivated and productive. This is why startups can be such a good place to work — they’re not as stable as an established corporation, but they’re exciting and often very rewarding.
- Be caring
If you’ve managed people before, you know how bad it can be to work for someone who doesn’t care about your growth. This is even more true in startups because everyone’s trying to figure out how to keep their strengths and find an edge in the market.
I’ve seen some startups attract really dedicated and hard working people, but their leaders are too far away or too general with communication. This can make it clear that the leaders have other priorities, and because of the nature of startups, people become uncomfortable when they feel like they’re being used.
This leads to people wanting to do more than what they’re being paid for or even wanting to get paid in full with regularity. Unfortunately, that means the company isn’t able to turn a profit in the beginning, and before long, the team is demoralized and the company goes out of business.
Leaders have to make sure that they encourage progress and that they keep the morale at the correct level. Keep an eye on the people and make sure they’re enjoying themselves.
- Realize time keeps moving
This is an even more important point because you have to be more aware of it in startups. By nature, startups are always going to move faster and have an even tighter deadline, and so they can be distracting for people who aren’t able to put this pressure into perspective.
So when you’re communicating with your team, you have to constantly remind them that they’re ambitious, but that you also have very tight deadlines. Push the team to be flexible, and to not be afraid to ask questions or to take on new job tasks if they’re needed.
- Talk to people about it
This is where your team needs you the most. And this is probably the most important tip for managers out there.
No one is going to listen if you’re too busy, or if you’re not willing to listen to them. If you don’t talk to people, they’re going to talk to each other about everything. And trust me, that’s exactly why people start protesting and becoming so frustrated.
I’ve worked with a number of startups over the years, and I see small things that can change the dynamics of the company and why people are so upset.
No one is perfect. But, with a good attitude and some management, people will be more optimistic and focused and more productive. This is the number one thing I look for when I am evaluating startup opportunities.
- Go Simple
I know this is sort of a trap. The idea is to make a startup appealing to investors, and in this case, as I said, the investors are the people that could push you to create the perfect technical ecosystem.
But this isn’t what makes a startup great and generally, it’s a distraction. You won’t need a strong technical ecosystem, because you’ll be focusing on the marketing and the people.
It’s important to remember that you don’t need a strong technical ecosystem to create something magical. All you need is a few programmers, a designer, a couple of bloggers, a designer and a marketing person. That’s what made Apple so successful — they focused on the people.
And that’s why the founders of Apple continue to be the poster child of what it takes to design and market a product. They only hired the best programmers in the world. And they only had a small marketing department and no advertising. They had a vision. That’s what made Apple a product leader.
Want to start your own startup? See this article: Startups If you’re not already an expert at programming, you’re generally never going to build a great startup. And if you’re not in the marketing field, you might not be able to market the product. Many startups are conducted by programmers, but they hire marketing or design experts to create the perfect product.
To quote Nathan Myrhvold, the former VP of engineering at Microsoft, “if you don’t do better than others, you’ll be out of business in 5 years.”
This is why it’s best to hire people who already have an experience, because they’ll be able to drive the product faster and better. If the costs are low enough, they can program themselves, but even if you really want to buy a programmer who’s great, still give him or her a break on salary — reward the person with great ideas and good ideas. Find an engineer who might excel at marketing your product and you might be surprised how well the product succeeds.
Startups are the best if you really love the idea and you’re willing to work with a small team. Expect to make big mistakes, but also expect optimism and exhilaration. When things go wrong, and they sometimes do very wrong, don’t get down. Remember that in startups, you’ll get a second chance. Keep working towards the goal of the product you’re trying to build. And be a good leader!