Not all startups are alike. And they don’t all operate in the same way. But nonetheless, there are a number of common denominators that most of them share.
We ought to know here at Agorize. After all, we’re a startup ourselves, and we work with big companies, helping them to collaborate with other startup businesses. You have to admit that we’re perfectly placed to assess the differences between the two types of companies.
So here are 10 startup habits that we think every major group should adopt.
1) Ban presenteeism
A co-founder of a startup recently told us that, after it gets to a certain time, he kicks his co-workers out of the office. He said that he had no sympathy or admiration for employees who insist on staying glued to their computers late into the night.
“If you’re still here, it’s because you’re inefficient,” he tells them, matter-of-factly. It’s a radical way of prying them from their chairs and making them go home. But he has their best interests at heart – work-life balance is a crucial factor in employee well-being (and in their efficiency, too).
2) Adopt the ‘two pizza rule’ at meetings
Who hasn’t had to endure the ordeal of a never-ending meeting that seems like the whole world’s been asked to attend? They’re long, tiring, and of questionable usefulness. The more people that are in attendance, the more likely that their opinions will converge and the less likely that they’ll raise objections.
That’s why Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, implemented the ‘two pizza rule’ that lots of startups are imitating – and remember, Amazon was also a startup before becoming a successful multinational. The principle behind the rule is simple – if two pizzas aren’t enough to feed all the people at a meeting, then there are too many people.
The idea is to decentralize the decision-making process and to only organize practical and brief meetings that mean every participant knows what to do and when to do it by.
3) Encourage people to use their initiative
Without initiative, companies run the risk of grinding to a halt. That’s why it’s crucial not to shoot your employees’ ideas down before they’ve even taken flight, and why you need to make your employees feel like they can – and should – share their initiatives.
Some of the biggest and most highly valued groups around the world were still startups in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Google, now valued at $109.5 billion, is known for encouraging its employees to take initiative. Everyone’s heard that employees at the American giant can spend 20% of their time of personal projects that aren’t directly linked to their everyday work.
And most startups encourage their employees to come up with new and original ways of achieving their objectives. Even when everything seems to be running smoothly, they seek out ways of becoming more effective – at this stage of the business, the risk of being overtaken by a competitor is huge.
4) Accept risk-taking (and accept failure)
Encouraging initiative means accepting risk-taking, which in turn means accepting failure. This is fundamental for businesses. Without risks, businesses survive but don’t give themselves the means to prosper. Christopher Columbus would never have discovered America if he’d only gone a few hundred metres from the coast in a rowing boat. If the Queen of Spain and the ship-owners hadn’t agreed to invest and to take a risk, the task would have been a lot more difficult.
Startups operate in lean mode in an iterative process – they try, they fail, they learn and they start again. Certainties in business are a rare phenomenon. And that’s why iteration is so important.
In general, big companies put a lot of processes in place to limit risks. But the most daring can take risks to get ahead of the game.
5) Share knowledge and train teams
To be successful, a company needs to make sure that decision-making and knowledge are decentralized. If expertise is only available to a few select employees, your company won’t be able to grow – for the simple reason that you can’t burn the candle at both ends 24/7. After all, if you don’t train your Padawans, you’ll never raise an army of Jedi knights worthy of the name.
Sharing knowledge and best practice is crucial. The more you boost your employees’ skills, the faster your company will develop and grow. You’ll begin a virtuous cycle where everyone creates opportunities, wins new customers, and improves processes.
6) Fly in formation
Cohesion is another key to success. Different teams have to be able to work together in harmony to achieve a common aim.
The role of co-founders at startups and of managers at major groups is to build a vision, then to pass it on so every employee can adopt it as their own. They also need to set out the role and future of each team and make sure that teams work well together (just like a good leader should).
When a group of employees launches a project, the entire organization should support and defend it. This is crucial to making it a success. If you have teams that aren’t interested in what the others are doing, or worse, try to stab each other in the back, then failure is inevitable.
In business, success boils down to strong personalities within a close-knit team.
7) Value each employee’s work
This is the number one rule for employee engagement. To ensure your employees are happy and motivated, show them that their work matters, that they have a direct impact on your business’s growth.
This means valuing personal initiatives, but there’s a lot more to it. Here’s a situation that’s bound to bring back memories for a lot of people: you’re given an ‘urgent’ task that needs to be carried out as soon as possible (or ‘ASAP’ if they’re in a real hurry). You stay calm through the pressure, you finish the job within the allotted time, you send it to your manager for approval – and that’s when things go south. No reply, no follow-up. Perhaps the world’s most urgent project wasn’t so urgent after all?
Situations like these arise all the time. But based on what we see on a daily basis from our partners in startup ecosystems from across the world, they’re much rarer in innovative young companies!
8) Alter the working environment
The working environment is a crucial factor in a company’s productivity and effectiveness. It’s something that startups understand perfectly. It’s important to create a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere that encourages teamwork. But it’s equally important to have areas where people can work quietly and make progress without being interrupted.
It’s hard to find the right balance – on one hand, promoting healthy group interaction, and on the other, not disturbing people who prefer peace and quiet.
Trendy, off-the-wall offices aren’t just for creative agencies! In fact, the opposite is true – every profession and every company division would benefit from having rooms that are more appealing, more comfortable, more spacious and more colourful.
9) Encourage flexibility and independence
In the vast majority of startups, targets are set, and then it’s up to each individual to achieve them with the methods and tools they think are best for the job. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether you take route A, B or C, as long as you get to the agreed destination at the right time.
Too many procedures can often negatively affect efficiency in big groups. The idea is to implement the systems that are needed to stop things from spinning out of control, while making sure they don’t become too inflexible. Otherwise, you run the risk of missing out on innovative approaches and productivity gains.
And, of course, this goes hand in hand with valuing personal initiatives.
10) Organize Friday evening drinks
Simply because nothing brings a team together like sharing a nice cold beer on a Friday (or any other day of the week, or even every day!).
In summary, don’t idealize startups – they make mistakes too. But in some areas, it’s unquestionable that they’ve taken the lead (don’t believe me? Ask millennials what they think). Here are the 10 ideas that large groups should borrow:
- Ban presenteeism
- Adopt the ‘two pizza rule’ at meetings
- Encourage people to take initiative
- Accept risk-taking (and accept failure)
- Constantly share knowledge and train teams
- Fly in formation
- Value each employee’s work
- Alter the working environment
- Encourage flexibility and independence
- Organize Friday evening drinks
Make sure not to succumb to the clichés – not all startups are perfect. But they do reveal management methods and practices that result in faster development without negatively affecting employees. They should be an inspiration to large groups – after all, they have so much to gain!
Want your organization to be more agile like a startup? Agorize can help you launch your internal open innovation challenge and go beyond the business-as-usual mindset. Let your employees team up and come up with new management methods that they will be willing to adopt.