Team Alignment: The Secret To Startup Success

Flying In Formation.jpg

By Jennifer Welsh, Founder of CultureOps

Formation flying is when two or more aircraft are traveling and maneuvering together in a disciplined, synchronized, and orchestrated manner. In these tight formations, planes sometimes fly less than three feet apart. They move in complete harmony as if joined together. Talk about #StartupGoals!

So let’s talk about that company you’ve started.

You have a mission statement. Your product is promising. And you’ve hired some people.

But is your team synchronized with your mission and each other?

Ensuring alignment within your team should be your chief executive priority if your plan requires people working together to make $#!+ happen. Your people have to be on the same page, and having a set of guiding principles is a natural way to ensure everyone is flying in formation.

Your guiding principles are the compass for your company culture.

Early stage startups have a tendency to delay the values design process because other things feel more pressing. Recruiting. Sales. Product Development. I know.

As a leader, getting your team aligned is the most impactful contribution you can make toward any priority, because a set of guiding principles will inform the decisions your team faces every day. As you scale your business, you can’t be present for every conversation. Having a set of guiding principles will ensure your vision is represented whether you’re in the room or not. Your company’s efforts will be more productive and see better outcomes when you have a compass. Tick tock.

Pull back now to ensure your team doesn’t go off the rails later.

Carve out time to uncover your values. The sooner, the better. When you define the values your company will stand for, everyone gets clarity, and team alignment follows naturally. Do what it takes to get this done, whether it means blocking time on your calendar every day until you’ve got it, or taking your leadership team off-site for a brand exploration. However you approach it, make the commitment and get it on your schedule, not to be moved. Procrastination is not your friend.

“Kumbaya” off-sites are a popular approach these days, but I like to push founders to define their own vision before opening the discussion to the broader leadership team.

Because values start with you.

Conceptually, this process has to start with you, and it must be authentic. As the ultimate decision maker, you’ll be the example to live by, like it or not, and you’ll have to put your money where your mouth is. These values have to feel natural to you and be true to your purpose. Here are a few things to consider as you begin the brainstorming process:

  • What has gotten you this far? What attributes do you want to encourage in your employees and carry forward?

  • What are the most critical obstacles that stand between where you are now and where you hope to be?

  • Envision complete success. Picture that IPO or acquisition day in your head. How did your team achieve that? Not what did they do? But how did they do it? How did they treat each other, company resources, and customers? What was the mindset?

But first, give your leadership team something to chew on.

If you want to take your leadership team off for a retreat, fine. Before you start Googling cabin retreats, define your vision, the founding vision. Share that with your key leaders as a starting point. Tell them specifically what you expect them to contribute to the conversation. How should they prepare? What should they be considering? What ideas should they bring to the campfire? Loading up on post-its and markers and booking a room is not an action plan for this kind of strategy session. Thoughtful preparation will impact the quality of your results.

Once you’ve shared your own vision for the company,

  • Ask your key leadership team to brainstorm company values that align to your vision.

  • What are some key indicators of success in their respective departments?

  • What traits do they find in top performers that they’d like to see more of across the company?

  • What traits are non-starters, to be avoided at all cost?

Remember, your mission statement is the WHAT you’re trying to do. Your values will be the HOW you achieve the WHAT.

Be specific and inspire. Think of your values as action-oriented, behavioral guidance.

The rewards are worth it.

As a guiding force, company values will focus your business decisions, encourage action in the right direction, and inspire. Here’s how your values will work for you:

  • Attract the right people. Clear company mission and values will naturally attract candidates, partners, vendors, and customers who are aligned with your purpose. Even better, you’ll decrease the chances of dealing with people who aren’t aligned. Nothing’s more expensive than forging partnerships, of any kind, with the wrong people. Make your values clear in your job descriptions, your hiring process, and when vetting vendors to assess alignment.

  • Activate your internal culture. Everything from budget allocation to how you celebrate wins can be guided by your company values. Values should be well-known, everyday vocabulary among your employees. Managers should be able to use company values as a measuring tool for performance. And employees should be able to internalize your values and know how the company expects them to operate. Values equip employees to be more autonomous by nudging decision-making in the right direction across the board.

  • Guide investments to protect your assets. Defined values can act as a financial compass, too — particularly in times of temptation. Honed values will help you decide where to invest by weighing initiatives against your mission and values. Startups feel ridiculous pressure to keep up with benefits and perks that recruiting competitors are offering. Instead of investing on the bandwagon because Hooli is doing it, look to your values to determine what’s right for your company.

It’s time to get started.

I hope you’re inspired to uncover your company values and infuse them into your business. As the leader of your organization, it’s your responsibility to get the ball rolling now. If you need help getting started, reach out to me at