4 Hands-Off Ways to Foster Innovation in Your Startup
Editor’s Note: In the new podcast Masters of Scale, LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman explores his philosophy on how to scale a business -- and at Entrepreneur.com, entrepreneurs are responding with their own ideas and experiences on our hub. This week, we’re discussing Hoffman’s theory: the smartest companies don't tell their employees how to innovate, they manage the chaos. Listen to this week's episode here.
The basis of innovation, in my experience, is space. When I started my company, ChattyPeople, I had more than enough space -- because my team is based in three different countries! That space was crucial in those beginning months, as we all came up with processes and solutions, and created ChattyPeople from nothing. We were able to come together as a team regularly to boost our connection and forward movement, grounded in our own individual work styles, which created some major innovation.
The company culture at ChattyPeople has always been one of individual responsibility, and I manage that by giving a lot of freedom, a lot of trust and hiring very capable people. The more space I can give to them, the better for the team and the better for creativity. I don’t need or want to hold hands and walk people through tasks; micromanaging can (and often does) kill morale, creativity and responsibility. Risk taking and innovation can only come when your employees are empowered, trusted and excited, but also when they are given clear goals, boundaries and deadlines.
Here are a few lessons you can learn from ChattyPeople on how to foster innovation by giving space and setting goals:
1. Daily communication
No matter how short the call is, at ChattyPeople we hold a daily company-wide video chat so that anyone can raise urgent issues that come up. Our team is spread across the globe, from many different cultures and backgrounds, and it is immensely helpful to be privy to the personalities of people from around the world. If there isn’t a human element of face-to-face, connection and communication can be lost, and productivity suffers.
Daily video communication helps us to stay accountable and connected, but any small company can mimic this communication style even if you’re in the same room. Holding daily accountability/check-in meetings can help people get up to speed on issues that may be moving quickly, and also stay on task, knowing that they will be called to the mat to give updates. It also encourages people to form bonds that otherwise wouldn’t be there, and with those bonds come increased trust, which equals risk taking and innovation.
2. Daily feedback
At ChattyPeople, we want to enable everyone to step up and help make our product better. If someone is getting really strong customer feedback on a particular issue, we want them to explain that customer issue to everyone across the company so that we stay focused on delivering a truly great product for the users.
We also encourage our development team to give feedback on where the development is taking place. This helps other teams understand why things are taking a longer time, which curtails frustration on customer problems that they are having to deal with. When everyone knows the development plan, we’re all on the same page.
Helping your team to understand the development plan and give feedback about problem areas will engage all of the minds of your team on a particular problem, even if it’s not necessarily in their area of expertise. They may have a great solution or can fix it from their end with a simple tweak, and daily transparent feedback can really get everyone’s minds on board.
3. Diversifying your environment
We have a diversified team and a diversified office, and in our age of globalization, this makes the absolute most sense, monetarily and intellectually. I’m in awe every day of the ways that my team approaches problems from a global perspective, which gives our company an edge that startups don't always have.
With a team like mine at ChattyPeople, or your own team in a local area, it’s important to keep in mind that people work best in different environments -- at home, in an office with others, late at night or early morning. By enabling them to work remotely and in their diversified environment, you’re setting your team up to be able to complete tasks in their happiest and most productive situation. Your results will be better when your team is at its happiest. And with the technological tools available to you now, there is really no reason to not allow and even encourage remote work.
4. Letting go of formal structures
Along with the structure of commuting into a physical office, gone are the days of working 9-to-5 and going home for the evening. When we launched ChattyPeople, we were working 18- to 20-hour days regularly in my front room, at cafes, in work spaces and on our own, from different sides of the globe. There were no “hours”; it was either done, or not.
Having an informal structure in meetings and environment is great for working really hard on projects that might go into personal hours, where a 9-to-5 would actually hinder progress. There is a lot of adversity in strange hours that bonds small teams, who can then take something good and make it absolutely great.
In the early days of your startup, don’t try immediately to be a “business.” By limiting your hours, you limit yourself. Your team will need some flexibility, of course, but encourage and hire for passion, drive and devotion.