5 Traits of the Most Productive Startup Teams

Freelance Writer & Former Entrepreneur
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Productivity is a make or break quality for startups. You’ll be dealing with a shakier foundation, less working capital, fewer workers, and fewer customers providing a smaller stream of revenue. Every hour you and your core team of workers spend is going to count. If you spend those hours making small talk or fiddling around on YouTube, chances aren’t good that your business will become a success.

That doesn’t mean you need to hammer away at work every minute of every day, but it does mean you’ll need to take measures to ensure your team is as productive as reasonably possible. To do that, you’ll need to consider and establish these five critical qualities for any productive startup team:

1. Specialized.

This one is debatable, since most “core” startup teams need to be flexible; unexpected problems arise frequently and workloads are volatile, so it’s important for your mainstays to be flexible enough to work on tasks outside their primary area of expertise.

Still, the most productive startup teams do have specialists who focus on one area of the business. Those overflow “leaks” are few and far between, and for the most part, each expert is exclusively responsible for his/her own domain. Such a model doesn’t prohibit teamwork, however, since multiple experts can get together to solve common problems. The advantage to keeping each specialist as separate as possible is limiting the possible distractions that could cause them to perform tasks inefficiently or limit them from making progress in their own realms.

Related: 5 Qualities VCs Look for in Your Startup Team

2. Uninterrupted.

Interruptions are normal, and many of them are unavoidable. It’s the avoidable interruptions that should be noted and eliminated. Too many startups use unnecessary constructs in an effort to get people working together, working in a specific way, or working in a specific order. Take, for example, impromptu meetings, which call together the entire team for a brief discussion. While it might seem like an innocuous move, you’re simultaneously interrupting every team member from his/her normal responsibilities. Rigid break schedules, rapid re-prioritization of tasks and frequently initiated conversations all distract a team similarly. Some interruptions are, of course, warranted, but the fewer, the better.

3. Flexible.

Remember that not all workers work best the same way. Some are morning people. Some prefer working in the afternoon. Some like to go on long stretches of heads-down time. Some prefer to break up work in short, 10-minute chunks. None of these approaches are any better than the others, except on an individual, preferential basis. The more flexibility you allow for your individual workers, the more likely you’ll maximize each employee’s productivity.

For example, you might allow select “work from home” days if some workers are more productive that way, or flexible break schedules, or even flexible office hours. If something works, keep it. If it doesn’t, find something else. The key is to find a system, however strange and unique it is, that keeps your employees happy and working.

Related: 5 Steps for Building a Great Startup Team

4. Passionate.

“Motivated” would almost do here instead of “passionate,” but “motivated” is more limiting. You could theoretically motivate a non-passionate person with something unrelated to their work -- for example, you could offer a cash prize to the top performer in a given month. Such motivation changes nothing about the intrinsic passion of the employee for the work at hand, even though it might temporarily improve productivity.

With a passionate worker, such external motivations, while nice, aren’t necessary. These people motivate themselves and actively enjoy coming to work every day. You never have to worry about how hard they’re working, because they like what they’re doing and they want to do good for your company.

5. Trusting.

Finally, good teams work together with a level of trust. You need to trust that your developer can meet a deadline so you can avoid wasting time with countless follow-ups. You need to trust that your financial officer will bring up potential issues before they become real issues, so you don’t have to read every report in full detail.

Trust is tricky because it can’t be purchased, instated, or pursued in any conventional sense. You can hire people who seem more trustworthy on a surface level, but for the most part, the only way to develop trust is to let it evolve naturally over time. Team building exercises, gradually increasing skill sets and cultural alignment can all help your employees feel closer and more trusting of each other, but there’s no substitute for time when it comes to trust.

These five qualities can’t guarantee productivity, but they can maximize your chances at achieving it. If your team exhibits these qualities and you stay reasonable and focused in your execution, you should have no problem making the most of your limited time and resources.
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