Take time to hit the pause button and sort things out.
The lean startup philosophy has made the phrase “get out of the building” something of a mantra. Just the other day, a friend was commenting that when he attended a lean startup event, the organizers kept badgering him to leave the venue. He calmly explained that physically getting out of the building would make no sense, his idea was targeting doctors and it was not likely that many doctors would be loitering outside the building on a Saturday afternoon just to be interviewed by would be entrepreneurs. Instead he called doctors he knew, all without the need to leave the facility.
I digress though, the point is that the phrase has taken a life of its own. We are so consumed with being “out of the building” and having “distributed teams” and “connecting virtually” and encouraging “flexible schedules”. Again, nothing new here and no issues generally. It is a lot better than having people together just for the sake of having them together which has been the modus operandi of the corporate world forever.
There is something to be said however for getting folks together in person to get stuff done. Particularly in an early stage startup, everyone is moving fast and so folks are usually just chugging on their own things. This is a good thing because the last thing you need is excessive process and oppressive management practices. You ostensibly brought them on board because they were talented enough to do the job without much oversight. Your early employees really need to be self-motivated and self-starters.
So I fully believe the best practice is to encourage flexibility and give people the freedom to do their thing. But there are times when you need to get in the room and jam on something to get it straight. It is okay to stop what the team is working on to focus in on something critical. Otherwise there is a very real possibility it never gets done, festers without any attention, or simply ends up being wrong.
I experienced that yesterday after it was obvious that we had to tighten up our positioning. We had this blob of a product that does a lot of things really well, but we were flailing about on how to describe it succinctly and clearly to be investors and customers. So Peter and I spent the afternoon and good part of the evening hunkering down in a conference room and figuring it out. That is what it took to finally nail the messaging, but because we were both going full steam ahead on various tasks (albeit important tasks), we never just stopped to think about, discuss, argue, and decide on the right approach. Prior to yesterday, we just tossed whatever marketing snippets sounded good at the time.
Getting out the building is useful. So is getting in a room and figuring stuff out in person. As an aside, I do not recommend conference calls for that. The point is make sure you dedicate some time to hit the pause button on the startup spirit, catch your breath, and spend some quality time to bring the team together to think strategically. It is easy to get into full-time, “get more done faster” execution mode without considering the impact or value of all that activity. Is it time that you consider bringing the team together to “get in the room”?
Image credit: CC by goldsardine