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May


Sam Parkin

Creating a culture of communication

Early stage startups often present unique opportunities and flexible team role definitions. The best teams respect each other’s emotions and are mindful that all members should contribute to the conversation equally. Often it has less to do with who is in a team, and more with how team members interact with one another.

The team is the foundation of any successful startup, as Steve Case, co-founder of AOL says: “The strength of a team is different people with different perspectives.” Without a strong foundation a startup will be battered by the rapidly changing environment, so team communication becomes crucial.

Working as an analyst developer for a London hedge fund, I engineered software platforms to administer custom and often complex financial instruments. Teams were highly specialised and efficient within their own structure. However, the functional silos led to non-aligned priorities and encouraged introversion and distrust. Communications were extremely formal, and it took a long time to get anything done.

Startup teams need to be cross-functional. Every person on the team has skills and experience that they contribute, turning the evolving requirements into the best iterations possible as they hurtle towards launch. Practicing inclusivity is important, as one never knows when an insight, a memory, or a skill rarely used will come into play.

Software developers working in isolation rarely create loveable products. Ideal technical founders need to be highly engaged in customer discovery and the early stage business, coupling this valuable knowledge with their expertise in subsequent build phases.

If you are trying to build a high-functioning team in which all members trust one another and have real chemistry, it’s important to put key rituals in place to help improve these interactions.

Fika  (daily check ins)

Fika is Swedish for “to have coffee.” Each team member spends a couple of minutes sharing what they did at the weekend or the previous day, as well as what they worked on and any problems they faced. The informal nature of the session encourages members to share openly, learn more about one another, and more deeply appreciate the emotional labour of their workload. Not to be confused with agile standup meetings, Fika is a valuable social touchpoint and a moment to collectively pause and take stock.

Retrospectives

Retrospectives can be thought of as a “lessons learned” meeting. The team reflects on how everything went and then decides the changes they want to make in their next iteration. During a startup accelerator, the natural rhythm is likely to be on a weekly basis.

Some method to formally track progress is imperative to run a good retrospective. While a variety of frameworks such as Kanban, OKR’s, and KPI’s exist to facilitate this practice, the important part is engaging in the practice itself.

A prerequisite for successful collaboration is for the team to embrace accountability. Taking collective ownership for objectives and committing to achieve them makes the members feel personally responsible for their contribution to the team’s success.

Creating this culture of universal accountability frees up a member of the team (usually the CEO) from having to act as a monitor—further driving trust and productivity.

Candid Feedback

Avoiding confrontation is the easy path; it’s the route many people take. But confrontation can be especially valuable when it comes to design and development. It’s good to have tough and open conversations with mentors, the organisation team, and within the team itself to help foster mutual trust and respect.

We all like to think we know what we’re doing. No one wants to be told that their strategy isn’t working, and often we can feel that asking for assistance is a sign of failure. Yet often the advice from experienced entrepreneurs is to leverage the skills of those around you by asking other people for help. If you’re afraid that they’ll turn you down Steve Jobs assures us: “I’ve never found anybody who didn’t want to help me if I’ve asked them for help.” An associated benefit of asking is that many more people become invested in your journey—someone who gives up their time to help wants to see the team succeed.

High-performing teams immediately and respectfully confront one another when problems arise, feeling comfortable enough to share ugliness and avoiding sugar-coating.

Kiwibank FinTech Accelerator (KFA) provides in-house expertise, mentors and world-class technology partners to provide enterprise-scale capabilities—key to building a repeatable business model for high growth potential, profitable companies. The practices of the team, however—well, they must bring those for themselves. As Dave Moskovitz, Entrepreneur in Residence for KFA notes, the magic formula is “team, team, team, market, product.

Sam Parkin is Technical Mentor in Residence for the Kiwibank FinTech Accelerator and was previously involved in the Lightning Lab XX programme as well as multiple Startup Weekends. When not helping to build young startups with Creative HQ, he contracts as a senior solutions architect, splitting his time between Wellington and SF. Find him on LinkedIn