Group dynamics in startups can either drive a new firm to stellar heights of success or cause it to implode in spectacular fashion. Although many startups launch with a single founder, to achieve the desired growth targets, at some point it becomes necessary to bring on one or more co-founders, advisors and/or board members. As more persons are brought on board, the group dynamics in startups become increasingly important and influential.
This post will explore key aspects of group dynamics in startups and offer tips for managing these social relationships so they became an asset, not a liability, within the startup environment.
In the startup world and In life, social relationships can either facilitate or impede your pursuit of excellence or attaining particular goals. In fact, though often overlooked, strong interpersonal skills and knowledge of the complex group dynamics in startups can be invaluable to sustainable success.
In a broad sense, interpersonal skills pertain to developing a solid understanding of ourselves and those around us, talking and listening effectively, and building positive and productive relationships that facilitate healthy group dynamics In startups.
Unhealthy Group Dynamics in Startups
In startups with unhealthy group dynamics, all sorts of things can and will go wrong. Moreover, unhealthy group dynamics can create a toxic working environment that positions a startup for almost certain failure. Classic signs of unhealthy group dynamics in startups include:
- Withholding information
- Internal competition that places personal “besting” others over the interests of the startup
- Conflicts and fights
- Poor decision-making
- Inability to attract and retain top talent
- And much more
But in startups with healthy group dynamics, the opposite is true. The team works together to drive the startup forward, being respectful of one another and keeping pettiness at bay. When conflicts arise, they are quickly resolved without a lot of infighting or lingering bitterness among individuals. This type of healthy group dynamics can help startups rocket to success. The book A Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive, written by Jim Afremow, offers some great strategies for building healthy group dynamics in startups or any type of team.
How to Improve Group Dynamics
- Know your rights and entitlements: Group dynamics in startups can be tough, but nonetheless, never be a doormat. Regardless of the environment, never let others violate your rights and entitlements. This means not tolerating verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. When someone’s behavior crosses the line and violates your rights or entitlements, you need to speak up in a calm, professional, but firm manner. Likewise, you always must respect the rights and entitlements of those around you.
- Be present while listening: Sadly, the art of listening seems to be dying a slow, painful death. To maintain health group dynamics in startups, it’s essential that you all really listen to one another. Give the other person your complete attention instead of daydreaming or thinking about what you’re going to say next. Study up on being an active listener, being certain to make eye contact and acknowledge the other person’s words. You can also summarize what the other person said to convey your understanding. Good listeners make strong startup leaders.
- Don’t pretend you’re a mind reader: Instead of guessing (and inevitably being wrong), just ask the other person what he or she is thinking, feeling, or experiencing. And never, ever presume to know what someone else is thinking. Doing so is a sure-fire way to disrupt the group dynamics in startups. Likewise, don’t make others guess what you are thinking or feeling. Be clear and always keep the lines of communication open.
- Discuss problems as soon a s they arise: Never allow problems, issues or grudges to fester-things will only get worse. As difficult as it may be, it’s important to tackle issues and problems as soon as you possibly can. If you’re upset or angry, take a short break (or perhaps even a full day) to clear your head or calm down; then express how you feel and what you want corrected. This approach can resolve any misunderstanding quickly and get things back on track. Sulking about issues or problems has never been a successful problem solving approach.
- Criticize the behavior, not the person: During times of interpersonal conflict, it’s our nature to attack the other person’s character. To maintain positive group dynamics in startups, this should never happen. Instead of verbally attacking the other person, a more productive approach would be to say, “I felt insulted when you said that about me in front of the team. Was that your intent?” And be as specific as possible, avoiding generalizations such as “You never . . . ” or “You always . . . ”
- Always strive to be fair: If you want your startup to succeed, then its critical that founders, co-founders, advisors and other key team members abandon the notion of always being right or getting their way. Look for a way to compromise when differences arise and think about what’s best for the startups future. When personalities or ideas clash, ask “What is fair and reasonable for all parties, and more important, what is in the best interest of our startup.” The goal is to work together to find a solution that suits everyone while keeping the company’s success at the forefront. Avoid thinking in right-wrong, all-or-nothing, or good-bad dichotomies.
- Have a plan to manage disagreements: In any group environment, disagreements are inevitable. In the high-stress, ever-changing environment of a fast-growing startup, conflicts can arise daily. Without a framework for managing disagreements and conflict, the group dynamics in startups can quickly become toxic. That’s why it’s important to establish a conflict resolution framework, before issues arise, not after, when it may already be too late. There are dozens of conflict resolution frameworks available online. For example, frameworks are available through organizations such as the American Management Association, the Founder Institute, and others. Collectively agree upon one that’s right for your startup and more important, consistently use it.
Strong, healthy group dynamics in startups don’t happen by accident. Rather, it takes planning, effort and practice all around. Early on, founders and co-founders should lay out a framework that provides for efficient and fair conflict resolution, while addressing each of the remaining six pints above.
The guidelines above offers a recipe for building and sustaining healthy group dynamics in startups. Want to learn more about strategies for building healthy organizational frameworks in your startup? Contact me today and let’s talk!