Envision the work environment of a newly minted startup. It’s a place full of smart, relevant banter and out-of-the-box thinking. It empowers a group of experts, thinkers, and collaborators to utilize their talents to bring an idea to life. It’s directed by a leader who fervently believes in the mission and knows how to inspire people—but it’s also driven by the team that supports and innovates on a daily basis. And most importantly, its mission-driven culture supplies innovators with the tools and connections they need to succeed. Because their goal is to bring a brilliant idea—the kind of idea that can change the world, because it’s relevant, creative, and fills a niche—to life.
Fast, intense, and incredibly purpose-driven: that’s what a startup looks like. Now, think about your own office. You might work for a small, family-owned company, or a large corporation. But chances are, your work environment is not very much like a startup. It’s probably steeped in meetings, routines, and schedules. It probably hasn’t changed much in the last few years. In fact, even though you may have a company mission statement, your leaders and colleagues may not display behaviors that back it up. That kind of stagnant workplace environment stifles creativity and innovation—in fact, it fosters a mindset of „let’s just do it the same as we’ve always done it.“ If you want teams making a difference daily, you need to take some pointers from startup culture. Here’s where you, as a leader, can start.
Encourage more questions. Why is it that many of the brilliant ideas of the last decade have come from startups (think Uber and Airbnb) instead of the boardroom? Because startup teams have a mentality of asking questions. They’re not afraid to reinvent, repurpose, or even scrap the status quo. They look for ways to refine, simplify, and make processes smarter and leaner. Start asking questions like “How can we…?” or “Why don’t we…?” and then follow through on the answers. Get experts and other teams involved. Reach out to old contacts for their input. And then, when you think you’ve got a new solution, stop and ask yourself, “What could use some tweaking?” Instead of sticking with the same-old, startup teams continuously improve and evolve products and solutions. Do the same, and you’ll be well on your way to making a difference.
Embrace change. The workplace is evolving. Since the growth of remote workers, the integration of social media, and the downfall of the cubicle, modern workplaces hardly look the same as they did even 15 years ago. The companies ahead of these trends are often startups. They value flexibility and innovation, not just in their teams, but also in the structure of their workplaces. It’s crucial to embrace these changes in order to appeal to talent from younger generations. But more importantly, it would be foolish to not take advantage of the benefits these changes bring. Who wouldn’t want the ability to hire an expert who’s a perfect fit for the team, even though they live across the world? Thanks to the rise of telecommuting, now you can. And why wouldn’t you want to institute policies that make communication and collaboration seamless and easy? Thanks to the progress of technology and social media, it’s more possible now than ever before. So be flexible like a startup, and get rid of archaic policies and procedures. Embrace the change. Your refreshed workplace will attract talent and inspire innovation.
Make room for mistakes. Innovation doesn’t happen overnight. Successful startups know that one good project can take months of tinkering and trial and error. Communicate to your people that the process and effort are just as important as the result. As Thomas Edison said on his path to inventing the light bulb, „I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.“ That’s the startup mentality you need as you’re cultivating innovation in your teams. Make room for error, and understand that not every project will be able to meet the deadline or achieve greatness. But the important thing to remember is that you’re striving toward making a difference with the projects and solutions that do.
The unique values and culture of startups give them a leg up on innovation and creativity. But, we’ve seen large, established companies adopt these values and transform as well. It’s up to each of us as leaders to build a culture that inspires innovative brilliance in our own teams and organizations.