How to lead, inspire and get the most out of your startup team

Your team is your most valuable asset and an essential element of great execution. After all, great ideas do not matter if they can’t be executed.


However, hiring A-players is not enough. There are plenty of examples of startups that hired the best people but still failed even though both the idea and the market were great.


Set quantifiable goals

Top teams are data-driven. However, being data-driven isn’t just about tracking results – it starts with setting the right objectives.


At the end of the day, there’s an enormous difference between these two goals: ‘improve website performance’ and ‘improve website performance by 25%’. The first means nothing while the latter is specific and measurable.


One of the systems that works well is Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) – invented by Intel but widely used by companies like Google, Palantir, Square or Zynga.


Team members set quantified goals (e.g. improve conversion by 30%) and the results are measured on the scale of 0 to 1.0. In general, you are expected to hit 0.6 – 0.7. If someone gets 1.0 consistently, it means his or her goals are not ambitious enough.


At Google, OKRs are public, including those of the company’s CEO and co-founder Larry Page. A great thing about OKRs is they are simple and straightforward and keep everyone accountable.


Provide autonomy and a challenging vision

Most people are not predominantly motivated by money; at least it’s not the key incentive that drives performance. Many studies confirmed that we are rather intrinsically motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose.


The best startups have an inspiring vision and that is why they can attract top talent. A sense of mastery has a lot to with the kind of people we work with and the learning and mentorship opportunities we have.


But what about autonomy? According to David Pink, author of the book Drive, the four critical aspects of work you can provide your managers independence over are as follows:


●     When they do it (time): For example, switching to an ROWE (results-only work environment).

●     How they do it (technique): Giving employees choice over how they accomplish their goals.

●     What they do (task): A good example is the 20% time policy at Google or Innovation Fridays at Mack Web.

●     Whom they do it with (team): A choice over whom your employees can work with.


Mentorship and growth opportunities

Multiple studies show that mentor relationships between new and experienced employees not only boost performance, but can lead to a much higher satisfaction and retention of top talent.


A recent survey on employee engagement cites “lack of training and mentorship to attain professional growth” as one of the top reasons why employees feel disengaged and quit their jobs. In fact, over 66% of all employees felt that way.


The moral of the story is: provide enough opportunities for professional growth.


Follow the no-asshole rule

To build a great team, you also have to protect it. Robert Sutton, a professor of management science at Stanford University, has analysed hundreds of companies and identified a particular kind of person who can ruin your company culture and the entire business. He calls them ‘assholes’.


Managers and startup CEOs should exercise zero-tolerance to people who turn out to be dishonest, manipulative, belittling, or egocentric, no matter the value they bring.


A survey by Georgetown University revealed employees who were exposed to ‘assholes’ spent less time at work, decreased their effort, lost loyalty to the organisation, wasted time avoiding the offender and even took their frustration out on customers.


Lead by example

Nobody likes to have a boss. A boss is someone who lets others do the work for him. The leader, on the other hand, is someone who guides the team forward and gets his or her hands dirty.


The reason Napoleon inspired entire nations, and his soldiers were willing to follow him against much larger armies (and defeat them!), is because he fought on the front line.


Behaviour breeds behaviour, and to build a great team as a manager or a startup CEO, you have to start with yourself.

Mark McDonald is the co-founder and co-CEO Appster, the leading mobile app and product development company with offices in Melbourne and San Francisco.

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