Is This Engaging For You

How to Build Startup Team Engagement

There are ‘only‘ three things that you need to build a successful startup. They are startup team engagement, user engagement and client / customer engagement!

Engagement focused on your users and clients (and here, include any potential partners and investors) is typically called ‘traction’.

However, more recently, we’ve become aware of the need to create and build engagement with our teams.

(This startup team engagement was supposed to happen naturally in the same office… but virtual, startup and hybrid work has changed all that…).

It is the great team (highly engaged with each other and the project) that will deliver user and customer startup traction faster.

So, yes, traction begins with startup team engagement!

Depending on how you set your team up, this engagement may or may not be physical.

If you can, at least once per month, meet up and share a meal or drinks. Share successes together. And, build your teams so that this is possible – at least occasionally.

However, if any of your team work remotely, then you also need to create the day to day touch points that spark ideas, interaction, build trust and deepen engagement. And I mean more than start a slack channel!

Digital Work-Social for Team Engagement

Yes, your startup may begin as an evening home-based side hustle. But let’s accept that tech or tech enabled teams and startups will never be full time office roles.

After all, look what happened to a famous silicon valley coffee shop where WhatsApp founders (sold for $15bn) got started.

It closed. But why?

Well, this Silicon Valley coffee shop could not raise $300k from a crowdfunding campaign to keep going - despite the massive financial wealth and (past) benefits that founders and VCs got from ‘serendipitous’ meetings at that place.

Silicon Valley could easily afford to save the coffee shop, but didn’t. That is because they knew that we were not going full time back to the office. And, that’s why the coffee shop no longer had the same purpose or value.

Hence, we have lost – it was happening anyway, but is now permanent – the automatic work-social life that comes with belonging to an office.

What the pandemic taught us is this. We need to be more deliberate in how we create our work-social life in a hybrid / virtual office. And to accept that it will be largely digital in nature.

And the measure of success of that ‘digital work-social’, is the ability to create and sustain engagement in our shared project.

How might you measure that engagement? There are a number of emerging tools that you can use, however, a great way to assess engagement is to look at the pace and nature of roll outs. This works regardless of whether you are rolling out tech upgrades, marketing campaigns or team expansion.

What does ‘digital work-social‘ life look like?

The first thing to recognise is that even before the pandemic, many of us on the engineering or digital marketing or data analysis side of things used to travel into offices from which we then spent 60% to 90% of our time staring into screens.

Really? Yep! Despite the fact that we were physically in the office, we couldn’t efficiently or effectively communicate with the whole team by calling a physical meet up and booking a meeting room.

In other words, our work life (again, given that we are either tech or tech enabled people) was already largely or nearly entirely digital.

Hence, whether we perform our work from a cubicle in a tall city tower or from a back bedroom today – has been irrelevant for a while.

But that doesn’t mean offices don’t played an important role in the creation and maintenance of startup culture and a place where ideas get sparked. It is just that we never thought about this hidden role of offices before, but now we must. And, we must think about digital work-social life because some of our team will always be remote or virtual.

So, how do we create an engaging digital work-social life - like the one which we used to spontaneously get in lunch breaks and after work drinks and water cooler moments?

And a digital work social life that establishes work culture and allows ideas to spark between team members?

“How we over come all these issues is all about how we solve the engagement puzzle.”

Many tech companies are turning to data mining applications or messaging platforms to identify who the key influencers are in the company and who is most or least engaged (eg see Temporall).

The old fashioned ‘walk the floor’ approach of older execs is now gone.

This approach has been waning for a while as team members spend their time communicating via Teams or Slack, Discord or whichever flavour of messaging / shared files / digital workspace you use. This has, for some time, created a dark space into which no manager or exec could either peer or simply hang around the edges and pick up the atmosphere.

That explains the data focus. Data allows anonymous and not so anonymous review of metrics designed to measure a degree of startup team engagement.

Crucially, this means a more data intrusive look at our teams and their work and, honestly, work-social lives. However, there is a pay off here, it gives team members more freedom not only over where they work (and commute) but also how they organise their day. This matters for the many people who have some form of caring duties and might seek to logon early in order to log off in time to pick up kids at 3pm.

Engaging Customers in work-social too

But of course, the engagement question isn’t just about engaging / fun team conference calls - it is also about how we engage our customers and support their digital work-social life too. We might ask, how do we replace the lunches, the coffee catch ups, the shared sports event experience?

However, not all customers actually want to be engaged in another work-social life.

One startup I’m working with is adopting the minimal engagement model. They assume that their users and clients don’t want engagement - they don’t want another social media platform, Their customers want a solution to their problem and then want to get on with life, work etc…

We might call this an anti-engagement strategy! But nevertheless, it is built on an understanding of how these users and customers are tiring of digital work-social life.

So, the question to ask yourself and your teams is this . What is your engagement strategy? How do you measure its success? And how do you avoid becoming yet another empty social media ‘lite’ platform? And, where an ‘engagement’ activity isn’t yielding the results you want, close it down. Don’t let it linger like some half forgotten kebab from the night before…

(At this point, you might want to read – move fast, break stuff, mop up!)

Hence, if the value of engaging in a busy active platform is so much greater than a ‘new’ platform - the question then, is, how do you get started? How do you gain the initial momentum? Do some team members have a burning need to reach out first? And, if they don’t, can you affordably seed a platform sufficiently to make it happen? If not, maybe there is a better way.

Startup Team Engagement – for newbies

So far, I have only spoken about existing staff .

The bigger challenge comes with new staff – who you’ve only met on zoom or perhaps in a rare face to face meeting.

Even if you have met the new starter extensively, the rest of your team will not have met. Hence, these second connection team members will need digital tools to build connection and engagement – in between the monthly or quarterly physical get togethers.

With new team members we face an additional issue of ensuring that team knowledge is available in the cloud. And where that knowledge is currently based in individual heads, then new starters need a way to get access to that knowledge beyond sending a barrage of email questions.

Not only are you attempting to engage with new starters emotionally and socially – but you are also looking to build engagement with the firm’s prebuilt knowledge, experience and culture.

What is certain is that new starters will not be able watch and see - to absorb the company way of doing things or pick things up as they go along. You will have to be much more deliberate about sharing the company’s culture.

Hence, new starters need far more structure to enable them to engage well with the company. Part of that is resolved by making sure knowledge, documents and spreadsheets are easily accessed via the cloud. That means; accessible, intuitive layouts and help to find missing pieces.

For to maximise startup team engagement employ digital librarians - a cross between the organisation of traditional librarians with a UI/UX instinct on how people use digital tools – to make knowledge available.

Team engagement is a question we will be asking and iterating around for a while. So, don’t assume all the solutions have been discovered yet.

However, whoever solves the startup team engagement question best for their market segment, for their users and their teams will see some of the best user traction growth rates.

Note, this challenge is not about the best technology. It is also how you apply the best technology to achieve the greatest levels of engagement!

It’s going to be a fast changing and exciting time! Game on!


Startup Team Engagement