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The definitive guide to improving your STARTUP team culture

Culture is the backbone of any good organization, company, or startup. It holds all the values, behaviors, drivers, and relationships amongst all of the team members. When someone says "Oh, I just love my job!" it probably isn’t because of the salaries and perks. It’s because of the feeling they get, the atmosphere, and their environment. It is because of the culture.

But what if there is something wrong with the culture? How to detect it? How to measure it? How to fix it? Improving culture isn’t as straightforward as changing a code or implementing new software. However, it is far more impactful! And the startup leaders that decide to invest resources in it will enjoy the long-term benefits of that change - in every way possible.

People Bootcamp did a case study when one of our clients encountered an issue. They had a significant turnover issue with one of their roles. Despite their best efforts, they weren’t able to determine what was causing it.

In order to get the best possible results, we agreed on implementing design thinking - a perspective that allows you to put yourself in the shoes of your clients. In this case, the users were team members. Through in-depth 1:1 meetings and a thought-out engagement survey, we managed to get their honest and valuable points of view. After analyzing all the data we got, we isolated two main focus areas: leadership effectiveness and clarity of expectations.

Although these two issues are quite common, it would’ve been wrong for us to just assume that the most frequent challenges will be faced by this team as well. This is why implementing a structured and innovative methodology, such as design thinking, allows you to see the broader picture, to rule any bias you might have, and to focus on the needs of your clients or users, our employees in this case.

After we established the focus areas, our next move was the creation of a detailed action plan, one focusing on more specific concerns and pain points. In order to improve the leadership effectiveness, we implemented the following steps:

These two steps don’t represent a ‘quick and dirty’ solution, a sort of bandage that was going to patch us up, but rather a more strategic, long-term approach to resolving the root cause of the issue. Being more transparent, and communicating timely and properly all the decisions to the entire team had additional benefits as well.

As for the other issue of clarity of expectations, we’ve been aware that it’s an issue faced by many, not only in their professional lives. The solution had to take into consideration all of the misconceptions generated from the lack of proper expectations, and confusion and conflict they could create. This is why the following steps were implemented.

  • Rolling out an annual planning process that included OKRs and clear company metrics

  • Creating company levels and a competency model that was used for performance assessments

These four steps, although rather transforming, weren’t all that was introduced. In addition to them, a pulse survey was introduced on a monthly basis, in order to allow us to track reactions to this change and get timely feedback on any other concerns. The survey was complemented with an experimentation mindset where we rolled out drafts, collected feedback, and iterated. This allowed us to avoid many cultural issues in the future, and deal with prevention rather than damage control.

Like we already mentioned, the issues in the culture can’t be solved overnight. Precisely because of that their impact can be felt far and wide. We were able to see progress after 9 months when the two markers increased by 100% and 70% respectively. In addition to that, we avoided many other issues and were far more prepared to deal with the upcoming ones.

Working on a startup culture critical to the success of the company. It requires a continuous effort, investment of resources, and a change in mindset and approach, but it will yield amazing results and improve your business in ways you couldn’t imagine.

The case study we shared with you is just one of the examples of a successful implementation of a cultural improvement. Follow us in the future for more real-life relevant examples of improving your startup.


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