How to grow your startup team successfully

Heather Kirk · 6 min · 04.04.2018

As a startup founder, I had little experience in growing a team at the beginning of my startup journey. Since piloting Social Fabric in 2015, we have grown from a single founder to a team of nine people, plus a large group of volunteers, and the process has been a great learning experience, with some missteps along the way.

Here are the lessons we have learned about growing our Social Fabric team:

Build a strong culture with shared values and a clear mission.

If everybody knows what they are working for, the right people will be attracted to the team, and everybody will be individually motivated to work hard to achieve the common goals of the organization. If there is a clear and strong vision and mission, it will also help to retain good people; in today’s fast-moving work culture, it’s easy and common for people to switch jobs, and this makes it tough to maintain smooth operations. Give the team a reason to stick with it over the long run. 

 

Find the ‘right’ people.

This is easier said than done. We have had great success in working with Impact Hub’s Summerpreneurship program. Most of our core team has been recruited from the program, and the program has made it easy to access a pool of talented young people. Offering an internship first provides the opportunity for a trial period, to make sure that new team members are a good fit. The program also offers great support in recruiting and team development. We have also done some of our recruiting through our own network and community, which also provides good opportunities to get to know people before taking them onboard. On the other hand, if somebody is not a good fit, get rid of them right away; they can cost a lot of management time and effort, and spoil the overall team dynamics.

 

Clearly define roles.

One of my big first mistakes was giving people tasks and not roles. As the team grew, my own workload grew because I had to manage everybody’s tasks. With the input of a mentor, I quickly realized that this wasn’t a scalable way to grow an organization. Now we try to give very clear role definition, and leave it up to our very capable team members to fill their roles by defining their own tasks. This means that responsibility is distributed, and everybody’s job is easier and more rewarding.

Make sure that team members are supported in achieving their personal and professional goals.

Everybody has unique aspirations, and we try to make sure that we speak regularly among the team, so that we understand each other’s aspirations, and support each other in achieving them. This means that we often have flexible work models. It also means that as the founder, I often end up doing a lot of the menial work (like bookkeeping or logistics), because I want to enable the team to make full use of their skills, especially the ones I lack. We also work a lot with mentors, so that individual team members can access knowledge and experience that we don’t have within our own team.

 

Create a feedback culture.

Create structures and formats that regularly allow the team to evaluate what they are doing and how they are doing things, and figure out whether business-as-usual still makes sense. Be ready to listen to criticism, and respond quickly when something is not working well.

 

At Social Fabric we still make mistakes in team management, and there is definitely room for improvement in our team culture, but we have tried to structure things in such a way that we can grow and maintain our core values, as well as keep great people on board.

Social Fabric is a sustainable textile center based in Zurich. Social Fabric promotes the use of textiles that have a small ecological and positive social footprint, and also supports people from vulnerable groups, for example refugees in Switzerland.

Heather Kirk worked as researcher in ecology and plant-insect interactions for five years before founding Social Fabric.



Heather Kirk, Fashion and Clothing

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