Hardest Part of Startup Culture? How You Handle Questions

Culture has been credited as a key component to the success of many startups and it is often the most difficult to get right. In my own experience and observation, the hardest task in implementing a positive culture in a startup is how questions are handled. Entrepreneurs are in the position they are because they are natural problem solvers. They have a desire that often borders on a compulsion to make the world a better place, to problem solve.

Fixing a problem isn’t always the point of a question from a member of a startup team. If you have set the culture right the viewpoint is not on the immediate goal but on the bigger picture.

“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Add ti this and understanding why the person is asking the question and making them feel comfortable in asking questions in the future is a key attribute of any leader.

How to put this into practice is not as easy as it is to say, but I have collected some advice. First is to take a breath before responding to avoid any reflex responses that may make the individual feel like the question is not a valid a question. The pause gives you time to think and shows the individual that their input matters and is worth contemplating. Second is to take into account the individual's personality that is asking the question. The time of a founder is scarce and valuable, but the others involved in the startup know that and sometimes go out of their way to get a piece of the founders time. Taking the time to answer a sometimes obvious question and then following it with a personal conversation can go a long way to keeping a team together, motivated, and on the same page.

It is also important to mentally catalog these questions to get a key understanding of the gaps (and challenges) in the problems the company is attempting to solve as a group. If they employees don’t get it then the customers surely will not.

These are just a few brief tips on how to handle internal questions in a way to support the right company culture. How to handle questions from customers, influencers, partners, and media is a whole different post.

Above all, a startup culture that does not encourage questions leads to a startup that is akin to a horse in a race with blinders. It may finish the race first, but is the finish line where the company needs to be? Maybe not.

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