I have been involved in 4 start-ups in my career so far. When I watched my father launch his business, it seemed easy and I often wondered, as a kid, why so many people continued to work in large offices. I have also been employed in some of the largest companies where I enjoyed the stability, the regular hours and ability to get so much done by just firing an email to the “support” functions. This blog is about the emotional side of the startups. I will not discuss any of the technical aspect of starting up a business but the equally important emotional and other qualitative aspect of working in a new business.
One of the areas where you might find hard to cope with, is the proximity, especially if team-work is not your thing. Equally, this proximity can give you a very strong sense of community and solidarity. More often than not, the group you are working with is made of similar minded people in the similar age group, which means there will be many ways to relate to each other, even if you are super shy. I would recommend that you would watch the following and you should be fine.
- Unchallenged views. Because all of you think alike, the ideas generated might lack sufficient challenges.
- Protectionism. This can occur especially when someone new joins. Nobody likes to be told that their ways of working, which seemingly worked perfectly to date, has to be changed.
- Introversion. Keep real, have real conversations with real outside people.
After a while, you will start making assumptions about others and communications become brief and scarce. Although it might seem ritualistic, keep talking. No matter how great the team is and how long it has played together with the same players, when the communication dies, the productivity will drop and you will miss the early signs of brewing troubles. Here are some tips on how you might avoid it.
- Short, recurring meetings. Once a week or whatever is suitable for the team, preferably, have a face to face meeting. This is the best way to understand how each member is coping or enjoying. This is about the body-language, voice tone, energy level, etc.
- Nominate a team captain or motivator. This person needs to think about keeping the communication going and keep the team motivated. Technical advice, communication improvements, status requests, are all valid communication channels. Even talking about trivial things such as a TV programme or a football game can sometimes get the juices flowing again.
- Language. While keeping the office civilised is a good idea, it is also good to constantly work on improving the communication skills and any work on any language barriers that exist. If your start-up is multi-cultural, simple misunderstand can happen often and lead to a larger misunderstanding.
Arguably, conflicts in a start-up can have a much severe consequence than in an established business. In a start-up, the stress levels will be high, the line between personal offences and professional criticisms will be very blurred. Being small and the bond that exists between the colleagues, hopefully most of the conflicts will be short-lived. Whatever you do, try not to take it personally because it probably isn’t. If you have made the decision to spend a considerable amount of time for this start-up, you would have asked a question at one point and made a conclusion that you are able to work with this team no matter what. If your team member is persisting on something, listen to him. He probably has a very valid point. In my experience, more often than not, most conflicts are triggered by freak-outs caused by stress and panic.
So, what do you get from a start-up apart from millions and millions of dollars? Surprisingly, the majority of the start-ups do it for other things like the sense of achievement, acknowledgement and other qualitative sense of success. I personally seek the challenges of start-ups mostly for the innovativeness of the project and the sense that you have changed the world in very very small way.
The Roller-coaster ride
I am not sure if there are a totally calm and zen start-ups. I would imagine that almost all of start-ups are emotionally charged and the question is how do you deal with it. The reward and the positive feedback could be some time away and the inability to deal with the stress and emotional challenges along the way have caused many start-ups to disintegrate very prematurely. Like any good marriage or a team sport, keep talking. Do not kill the dialogue. Unless you are doing it on your own, you must not take things personally and concentrate on getting the job done.