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How To Smash Your Silos & Keep Thinking Like A Startup

Building and preserving culture should never be taken lightly. As your business matures, it’s important to keep looking at how you can maintain a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, and make it scalable.

Corporate culture, says Pardot Co-Founder David Cummings, is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur. So what can you do for your business to make sure you’re thinking like a startup as you grow?

At The Working Group, and in the tech/startup industry more generally, we all spend a lot of time thinking about this question. I’m going to share a couple of practical ideas that can help any organization foster and build startup culture from within.


1. Learn how to do rapid product development

If you’re building software products, learn about Lean startup principles and Agile development methodologies.

The Lean movement has grown in popularity over the last few years within the startup community. Word is already spreading beyond the circles of startup founders.

You’ll learn about validating ideas rapidly through customer development. By iterating on these ideas you can be sure you’re solving a clear problem, and there is a market for that product or service.

There’s a wealth of information online about Lean Startup methodologies. I suggest you start with Eric Reis’ “The Lean Startup.”

Agile is the process of iterating through the software development cycle in small chunks of 1-4 weeks. It’s the antidote to waterfall development, where analysis and requirements are completed up front. Then you move to product design, then development, then testing and finally release.

The problem with this approach is that it’s always wrong when you get to the end. Agile lets you test and release throughout the process. This means the end result is much closer to the desired result.

Today’s leaders need to ensure that Lean and Agile principles are deeply ingrained in the fabric and culture of their organizations.


2. Hold regular hack days

“Hack day” is a term from the world of software that I come from, but the concept is applicable anywhere.

A great way to change your culture from the ground up is to hold events that engage employees from different departments and levels in the organization. Give them time to work together on solving new and different problems within the organization. This could be around the conception of a new product or service, or optimizing or creating a new internal process.

The benefits from these sorts of activities are enormous, beyond the generation of useful ideas. So much value is created by engaging employees in different ways.

It’s about taking them out of their comfort zones and mixing them with people they don’t normally work with. You’re also showing them that you want to hear from them.

The funny thing is, many of the ideas that come out of these “hack days” actually do go somewhere and create real business value.

I’ve been running Startup Weekend events for years. We help companies to run events like these internally,  because the concept is applicable within any organization. Read about Startup Weekend, or attend one yourself, and see how running an event like this could help you to think like a startup.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many ways you can try to build a startup oriented culture within your organization. If you believe in the value and you look in the right places, there’s much to learn and a lot of innovation to follow.



Chris is an investor, entrepreneur and startup community evangelist. He helps people build amazing digital products and is a tireless advocate for all things entrepreneurial. He’s a Partner at The Working Group, a Startup Weekend organizer and facilitator, a contributor to numerous publications including the Globe and Mail (Canada’s national newspaper) and father to two little girls. You can find him on Twitter @ceben. Email Chris.

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