Startup Library

1. Develop team culture and norms

Paying attention to team culture and norms can make a startup a great place to work

Team culture and norms are shared values, beliefs, and resulting attitudes and behaviours. They affect every aspect of your business (e.g., operations, communications, etc.) and thus play a crucial role in team alignment and performance. They dictate how and why your teammates should conduct themselves with intention.


Here are a few tricks to start building a winning culture.

1. Know thyself

Source How Team Norms Can Boost Team Effectiveness
Where do you start?

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” – Aristotle

Start by self-reflecting on your skills and personality traits, and how they translate into your startup culture. The clearer you are on what drives, inspires, and worries you, the better you can articulate your wants and needs in your working relationships with teammates.


The 16 Personalities personality test gives you a ” “freakishly accurate” description of who you are and why you do things the way you do”

Be mindful of the fact that every teammate will have different skills and personality traits, and thus what drives, inspires, and worries them will differ from one person to the next. When aligned to shared values and beliefs, these differences can complement each other to create a strong foundation for your team.

The key thing to remember is that the smaller the team, the greater the impact each member will have on team culture and norms. Cofounders have the greatest impact because whether you realize it or not, your attitudes and behaviours begin shaping them from the start.

2. Set some basic rules of engagement

Think of building your startup like baking a cake. Your team’s collective knowledge and skills are your ingredients, and your startup culture and norms are the recipe you follow to integrate them in service of your long term vision for the business. When your culture and norms foster alignment, your team can function harmoniously and maximize efficiency.

You can easily set norms or standards like starting meetings on time, working towards deadlines, or paying attention to your budgets. But how about taking some of these norms to the next level?

Manage all meetings with intention – the IDOAART formula for running effective meetings

Make every meeting count for both the organizers and participants. Know why you are there and what you hope to accomplish before the end of the meeting — before you even meet!

IDOARRT is a simple tool to support you to lead an effective meeting or group process by setting out clear purpose, structure and goals at the very beginning – get everyone on the same page before the meeting starts! The acronym stands for Intention, Desired Outcome, Agenda, Rules, Roles and Responsibilities and Time.

Intention – What is the intention, or purpose, of the meeting? In other words, why have it? One sentence MAX.

Desired Outcome(s) – What specific outcomes should be achieved by the end of the meeting? These are ALWAYS “nouns”. eg. By the end of this meeting we want to have: a plan, a decision, an agreement, etc.

Agenda – What activities will the group go through, in what order, to move toward the desired outcome? These points typcially start with a “verb”. 1. Introduce… 2. Share… 3. Develop… etc.


The 3 points above are the barebones for preparing any meeting. A simple IDOA works well as a structure for planning out most meetings. For larger or more complex meetings, you might also want to dive into these next two parts of the IDOARRT framework.

Roles – What roles or responsibilities need to be in place for the meeting to run smoothly? Who is facilitating, and who is participating? Who is documenting, and who is keeping track of the time? What do you expect of the participants?

Rules – What guidelines will be in place during the meeting? These could relate to agreed group norms. They could also relate to use of laptops/mobiles, or practical rules related to a space. Let the participants add rules to ensure that they have ownership of them.

Time – What is the expected time for the meeting, including breaks,and at what time will the meeting end?

Again, at the beginning of EVERY meeting, introduce the IDOARRT, going through point by point. Invite participants to ask questions or make suggestions for changes. Once the group is happy with the plan, go ahead with the rest of the meeting.


As the meeting progresses, make sure to check-in from time to time to see if you are making progress on your desired outcomes. And check in at the end.


Teach your team how to both give and receive feedback effectively

Giving feedback

We get so excited about improving ideas, that sometimes we forget to say what we like about what we have just heard. When giving feedback, always start with, “What I like about what you have just shared is….” and then you can follow up with, “What I’d like to see more of is……”

It reminds me of the old adage “just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down”. Giving a little love before launching into more critical feedback can go a long way in helping someone to gracefully receive tough feedback and continuing to progress.

Receiving feedback

It is hard to receive feedback. Particularly when the person giving it just doesn’t seem to understand your message. Wait! That’s the point, isn’t it?

When receiving feedback, your only response can be one thing: “Thank you.” For taking the time to listen. For providing a response. If someone doesn’t understand your story, that is the feedback — you need to make it more understandable for that kind of audience.

The minute you hear yourself saying, “no, you didn’t understand”, think of reframing your response to “tell me more what is unclear”. Feedback is a gift if you can manage your response to it, and gives you the info you need to be better the next time.

Whether you like it or not, your team culture and norms will have an impact on your startup’s viability and effectiveness

Life is a team sport and startups are no different. To optimize a small team, everyone needs to be a star player. Make sure you are fostering an environment that enables everyone to shine. Then, your startup can thrive!