How to Manage a Startup Team: 5 Tactics for Success

Startup founders often underestimate just how important it is for you to be effectively managing and leading your team. In this video, I’m going to share with you five tactics that you can start using today to more effectively lead your team to success. We’ll cover things like what your meeting should be like, how to set up your organization for success and what sort of lessons that you should be teaching your employees.

Tactic 1: Set a clear team cadence

What I mean by this is you’re going to want to ask all the questions around how frequently you guys are going to meet when you’re going to meet and what exactly you’re going to talk about. Define for your team exactly what’s for a meeting and what goes outside of a meeting.

For example, in the last business that I co-founded, we had an all hands it’s meeting every single two week for employees in which we would give status updates across all the teams, as well as general company announces in that meeting. Then when it came for weekly meetings at the end of every single week, I ran a team meeting with our sales, customer success, and marketing teams to talk about the things specific to our team and how we were working towards our revenue goals.

During my team meetings, we would often spend the second half of these meetings to discuss some sort of thing that required more collaboration between the different teams. However, this sort of topic wouldn’t have fit in, in the all hands meeting that we had across the company. So by figuring out exactly what cadence you guys have and what boundaries are for different meetings, you can make your meetings more effective and better manage your startup team.

In the company experience that I just shared, we also had weekly one-on-ones with employees and their managers. That way any personnel issues or challenges could be addressed on a weekly individual basis with team members.

Tactic 2: Set up your Slack for organizational success

If you haven’t recently audited your Slack, then you should do so ASAP. Because if everything is just falling into your hashtag general channel, then it means that you don’t have enough channels for the different things that come up in your business.

What I want you to do is think about the core functions of your business and ask yourself whether or not a channel exists for talking about that particular core function. From the different organizations that I’ve consulted for or been a part of, here are some common channels that I often see.

There’s almost always a general channel for things like company announcements, a sales channel for the sales team to talk about things going on on the front lines and engineering channel for any bugs and fixes and things like that, a content channel if you are in a content business, a customer success channel to talk about any customer success challenges or things coming up in customer support, a user feedback channel in case there’s something that wants to be surfaced to the overall company, a stand-ups channel in the case where you want to set daily goals for your team members. And then there’s a random channel in which anything just goes in terms of that space where it wouldn’t fall into any individual DMs.

This tactic is similar to the prior tactic in that it’s all about setting up your team for success. If you have a clear place for everything, then it’s really clear for your team where they should leave certain things. Whereas if you don’t have the sort of basic organization system, it can be really challenging to keep track of everything that is coming up in the day-to-day. The more time that you invest early on in your organization’s SOP in organization, the less of a headache you’re going to have later down the road when you guys really start to scale.

Tactic 3: Share public trackers towards your key performance indicators

At every single point in time, it needs to be abundantly clear to everybody in the organization where you guys stand towards your organizational goals.

This means that if you don’t have a public tracker, you need to build one. For example, we have a tracker in which every single week we give an update as to how many leads we’ve captured, how many of those leads are good opportunities and where those opportunities are towards conversions to becoming paying users.

By knowing your numbers inside and out, you guys can actually measure your outcomes and see how effective your team is operating in. But this also means though, is that at an individual employee level, employees need to have their goals in place as well. The goal is that individual employees are setting with their managers also have to align to the organization’s bigger goals as well. In other words, you will know that your organization is operating efficiently and effectively when all goals from the top to the bottom are aligned and they all contribute to one another.

And employee’s individual goals should work towards the team’s goals. And then once the team’s goals are in place, they should help the overall organization’s goals. Organization and goal alignment is really crucial in the early stages of a company. If you guys are not aligned across the board, it can be really difficult to actually validate something or scale up your business.

For one company I started in the past, we had a master KPI tracker in which anybody across the entire company could reference it at any time to understand exactly what each team was working on and whether or not those teams were being effective.

Tactic 4: Set clear team expectations

This was something that took me a little bit longer to learn as a founder the first time around, but it’s something I started to really understand as I matured and just became a better leader. Whether you’re a startup founder or an early manager, you need to make it clear what your team is all about. What’s in your guys’s DNA? Are you the sort of team that does whatever it takes to get the job done? Are you the sort of team that values work-life balance a lot or whatever it is you need to make sure that that is clear to every single person in your team.

For example, in my case, early on, I used to work really long hours and so my team would follow my example and work really long hours. But what I learned over time in one-on-ones and other conversations was that not every single person works well that way. And so they were simply following the example of the leader in this case, but they weren’t actually doing their best work.

Figuring out specifically what works for your team and what doesn’t work for your team in creating sustainable work is really important for effectively managing your startup team. Not keeping a close tab on this really costs me in my first few years as a manager. In fact, almost every single person on my first version of my team left me after a year because they were burnt out and overworked from that culture that I had created. However, it was from taking that sort of feedback, both the qualitative and the quantitative feedback of people having left, that I was able to build up a more sustainable culture in which in the following years, people stuck around and they loved their work. And we were able to be highly effective.

As you start to think about what this might look like for you, it might mean something like making sure that people take coffee breaks throughout the day, making sure that you check the vacation tracker and seeing who hasn’t taken a day off recently so that you can maybe encourage them to do so. Whatever it is that you need to do to support your team, you need to identify what expectations you’re setting for your team and then actually live through with those expectations.

Tactic 5: Build up a backlog of stories or themes

When I was scaling up my team, I found it to be really helpful to have a single big lesson or takeaway that I could share the end of every single week in our weekly meetings.

This would be a time for us to take a step back from the day-to-day work and reflect on the impact we were having for our organization and for our customers. And it was during this time that we were able to connect things beyond just business, but also life things that we could take away from our experiences together.

For example, there is a common Chinese saying that goes along the lines of Bi Xu Chi Ku. And essentially what that means is “you have to eat bitter in order to understand what it means for something to be sweet.” Without truly enduring hardship, you don’t really truly appreciate the work and accomplishments that you come to realize.

So, in my case, I brought this saying up in an end of week team meeting when I was talking to my team about some of the hardships we were going through at that particular time in our business, because our growth had stalled and we had just gone through a round of layoffs. It wasn’t a fun time for anybody, but we needed to understand the road ahead of us and what we needed to overcome as a team in order to get the business back on track.

Having these key themes or stories would become really important to my team. In fact, a lot of team members, even after they had left our business had mentioned how important these sorts of themes and lessons were to how they viewed their work and what they did on a day-to-day basis.

It’s incredibly powerful for you as a leader to understand the power of story in order to motivate and lead your team. When you think about the experiences that you’ve had in building your business or whatever it is that you’re working on, I want you to think about how you can relate those experiences in the future to new employees.

For example, more recently with my CEO, I’ve been talking about how important it is for her to be sharing those early stage stories that she and her co-founders had to go through in order to get our business to where it is today. It’s only by sharing these sorts of early stage stories and trials and tribulations that your team members will truly understand what your company is all about.

Big takeaways

There are two things that I want you to remember when it comes to managing your startup team:

  1. The first one is make sure your meetings and your materials are predictable. If your team doesn’t know what to expect from you, then you shouldn’t expect anything from your team. It’s only by having clear expectations that you can actually have a highly performing team.
  2. The second big takeaway is to make sure that you’re keeping a close pulse on your team. It’s only by truly understanding what each individual person on your team is going through or the overall morale of the team that you will be able to effectively manage them. Create systems for yourself to keep tabs on this and also, make sure that you check in with them on a one-on-one basis so that they feel supportive.

If you liked this article, be sure to check out my YouTube channel to get new videos every single week. I’ll help take you from zero to self-starter as you grow your business, get more customers, and hone your business acumen. Also, feel free to share this with anybody that you think might benefit from learning how to manage a startup team.