I recently participated in a four-day boot camp for startups in which they had four days to set a vision, execute a plan, develop a pitch, and sell their idea. The exercise revealed some of the key challenges a startup faces in terms of its organization, and some key takeaways.
At the basis of the challenges is the simple fact that there is no structured organization to begin with. You may have a group of people who don’t know each other at all, or a group of people who are friends or who know each other on some level but who have never actually worked together. Given this, it is easy to understand why it can be difficult in the beginning to align strategies and quickly build that team component.
Many startups, because of the equal footing of its founders, or because they don’t believe a hierarchy is needed, try to start with a horizontal organizational structure. While this seem like the right way to ensure all opinions are heard and that decisions are made fairly and with consideration for all opinions, it can also mean that decisions don’t get made at all.
Because a startup must be agile, as sometimes decisions must be made quickly, it is important that you set in place a decision-making plan that allows for deliverables to be achieved on time. What that structure looks like for your startup can be customized to your particular team but should include a plan for moving forward ideas, even without consensus in some cases.
Along with this must come empathy, a sensitivity to the decision making, understanding that not everyone can play this key role but many may feel a sense of ownership over the project and decisions being made.
Pragmatism is key
While in an ideal world you may be able to take all the time you need to perfectly execute solutions and ideas, this is not the reality in the world of startups. What I recommend instead is that you allocate a specific amount of time to achieve a task, and then take whatever results you are able to achieve in that time and move forward with that. While the results may not be perfect, they will be something you can build upon and this is the easiest way to eliminate stress.
Stick to your plan, ensure others on the team stick to theirs, and you will achieve the deadlines you have set.
Sometimes you must make a decision to move backward, to rethink a strategy so that you can move ahead more effectively. When this happens – and it will almost always happen – it is important that everyone sets aside their egos so that clarity and a new direction can be set.
Know everyone’s strengths
It is a good practice to chart everyone’s strengths so that they are clearly understood. In this way, if someone faces a challenge, they know who on the team they might turn to for help. This kind of summary can also help ensure that you are not tasking someone with a job they do not enjoy or do not possess particular strength in.
Work like a big company, but faster
Large companies have processes in place for regular and urgent meetings. As a startup, you should have a similar structure, but one that is set with a much faster and more urgent timeline.
For instance, you should schedule your day so that the team comes together for short standup meetings throughout the day. In these, people should share three things – what they have done since the last meeting; what they are having difficulty with; and what they will tackle next.
There should also be regular strategy meetings, several times a day, to begin and then several times a week to ensure everything is on track and everyone is aligned.
Finally, there should be a process for calling crisis meetings when issues arise, when intelligence gained indicates a change in direction is needed and so on.
Communication is key
You must also have an understanding of the different levels of communication and a process in place for each to ensure each reaches the right people with the relative urgency required.
For instance, there should be a process for sharing general, non-urgent information, to ensure something everyone needs to know reaches the team, and finally, that critical and urgent information is received and acknowledged by all in a timely way.
The organization of a startup is unique and will evolve as time and the project move forward. Understanding the challenges and putting some simple processes in place is key to avoiding frustration and ensuring success.