Positive morale on technology start-up teams is critical for overcoming product development delays, slow user adoption, and a lack of revenue or external financing. Yet maintaining morale can pose an ongoing challenge, particularly when it feels like you have undertaken a Sisyphean effort burdened by a never-ending series of roadblocks. Start-up teams with members playing part-time roles across multiple geographic locations may find this even more difficult to manage. This has certainly been my experience at Company Connector, which matches professionals with the best employers for them and whose team members work in San Francisco, New York, Boston, Chicago, and Mumbai.
Based on my leadership experience at Company Connector, here are five ways to boost morale on your start-up team:
1. Celebrate the smallest of successes
Don't allow the failure to meet your development schedule or achieve your monthly milestones to cast a pall over your team. While it's tempting to view success and failure as binary, it's useful to remember that many small events and activities are positive indicators and provide a reason for celebration. Seize on those successes, whether it's a write-up of your business or a handful of new Twitter followers or a testimonial from a user. Share those successes during your next team meeting. Success begets more success.
2. Keep things light
The success of your start-up is not a matter of life and death, so aim to have some fun along the way. After all, working on a start-up is hard enough; a humorless work environment becomes intolerable. Make the off-color joke. Use self-deprecating humor. Start the next team meeting with your new card trick. And, yes, execute an April Fool's joke: my roommate convinced the engineers on his team a couple weeks ago that they needed to accede to their investors' demands to undertake a seismic pivot from legal search to social photo-sharing. Suckers!
3. Make a cross-country trek
We are social creatures who thrive on interaction. There is a reason Yahoo recently ordered its employees back to the office: in-person collaboration can motivate people and stimulate creative thinking and fresh ideas. While flying across the country is neither easy nor inexpensive, getting the team together occasionally for weekend "hackathons" reminds everyone that this is real, you are in it together, and you'll do whatever it takes to succeed.
4. Send an inspirational email
Everyone needs a dose of inspiration, particularly when your team's sign-up and traffic goals remain elusive. Take a few minutes away from developing that killer new feature to send a message of encouragement. Put yourself in the shoes of another team member and consider what would make them feel good about the work they're doing and the mission you're on. Thank them genuinely for their contributions.
5. Make a surprise gesture
Most entrepreneurs are motivated not only by the prospect of significant financial returns, but also by opportunities to learn, enhance their skills, gain unique experiences, work in a fast-paced environment, and build professional connections. Explore how to provide those opportunities, like paying for your intern to attend a cool start-up conference or bringing in an outside expert to share some best practices. Any gesture can make a difference, especially when it comes a surprise. Order pizza to be delivered to your team members' apartments during a remote working session. If nothing else, make some cool t-shirts.