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11 Ways to Motivate a Scaling Startup Team

11 ways you can motivate a scaling startup team to increase job satisfaction and create a sense of purpose.

By Hannah Ross  •   August 31, 2022  •   8 min read

Igniting your team members with an ever-burning fire—in other words, a constant desire to do their best work—should be one of your most important priorities as a manager. Unlike in static environments, motivating employees in a scaling startup can be difficult. The climate of your company is constantly evolving, and roles and responsibilities are always shifting. We’ve taken the time to round up 11 ways to motivate a scaling startup team so you can double down on motivating your team and sustain job satisfaction as your startup scales. 

What is a scaling startup team? 

A scaling startup team can be defined as a team within a startup that is experiencing rapid growth or a team within a startup that has the ability to grow quickly. While the startup may be experiencing rapid growth, a team may need to scale when a startup does not wish to expend more resources on new hires or on practices that will disrupt operations. Scaling teams are those that need to take on additional responsibility without additional resources in order to scale, grow, or meet new objectives. 

A scale-up is a startup that has grown or changed to scale. To move to this stage, a startup will have successfully stabilized its business model with current resources. Scaling is critical because sustainable growth is extremely important to startups. When sustainable growth is achieved, scaling startup teams will be operating both efficiently and cohesively to meet company objectives. 

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The importance of motivating your scaling startup team

Working in a startup can be challenging—even more so for individuals who don’t have ample experience working in a fast-paced environment. While some teammates may embrace change, others may feel overwhelmed or as though the work they do goes unnoticed. To ensure everyone within the team is able to grow and scale with the company, it’s important that you find ways to keep your teammates motivated and inspired. 

If your startup team is scaling, chances are they need to take on more responsibility or double down on their efforts. Nothing remains constant and their roles and responsibilities may be shifting on a frequent basis. Keeping your team motivated will ensure they embrace change with grace and feel eager and ready to take on new challenges as they arise. 

11 ways to motivate a scaling startup team 

1Give your team autonomy

Autonomy and motivation go hand in hand. Without autonomy, motivation becomes nearly impossible. To quote Smruti Patel directly from episode 58 of our Supermanagers podcast: “When I think about autonomy, the first thing that comes to mind is the sense of intrinsic motivation, which is what makes each of us tick. As you scale and you want to drive autonomy, it starts out with trust. You have to figure out how to build trust with your immediate team and then determine how you can branch out from there and begin to plan for sustainability and scalability.”

2Foster a sense of community

Fostering a sense of community amongst scaling startup teams is extremely important. Not only will fostering community help create a sense of cohesion amongst team members, but it will also help your teammates feel like they are part of something much bigger than themselves. Creating a community gives us the opportunity to connect, collaborate, and reach shared goals together. A team in which individuals feel they can collaborate and lean on each other is much more inclined to remain motivated and engaged when compared to their counterparts. 

3Host effective team meetings

We’ve all been part of unproductive meetings. Whether they are off topic, run without an agenda, or are simply just unorganized, there’s no easier way to lose a crowd than by having a meeting that isn’t effective. Hosting effective team meetings poses an excellent opportunity to engage and motivate your team. Before you start your meeting, it’s important that you know exactly what you’re going to say. Whether for a standard staff meeting, a personalized one-on-one, or even a meeting with senior executives, having set topics on a meeting agenda will go a long way in helping you run a productive and effective meeting. Check out this meeting agenda template to ensure your next meeting runs both smoothly and efficiently.

4Encourage learning 

Encouraging learning is one of the best things you can do to boost morale and motivate your teammates. If your team members feel stagnant in their careers, they may not feel motivated or inclined to be team players. Embracing learning and providing your team members with opportunities to learn new skills, refine current skills, or grow within their careers is a great way to demonstrate your investment in their success. If your teammates feel as though they have opportunities to learn and grow, they’ll be more inclined to work hard and remain motivated during the company’s next phase of growth. 

5Be transparent

Transparency takes many forms, like sharing company metrics with the rest of the team, addressing goals that may have been missed, or simply sharing open and honest feedback with team members. In a startup, transparency is more important than ever. Things are moving fast, and massive changes occur on a daily basis. Being upfront with and educating your team members on the climate of the company is very important. Transparency leads to trust, which is key in a scaling startup. This level of trust will help you build a happy and healthy work environment that leads to eager, motivated employees. 

6Communicate the purpose of the work your team is doing 

If your teammates don’t understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, they’ll lose stamina fast. Understanding the why—or more importantly, how the work they’re doing contributes to the big picture—is extremely important. If your team members don’t understand the importance of their work and how their contributions contribute to the greater success of the company, they may not be inclined to take on more work or level up as the company continues to scale. 

7Understand individual team members’ motivations 

There are ample ways to motivate a scaling startup team, with one of the most important being understanding your teammates on a personalized level. Everyone’s motivations are different, so it’s important to get granular and get to know each one of your teammates’ personal motivators. Understanding each one of your teammates’ motivators will help you create customized strategies that ensure everyone has job satisfaction.

8Give and receive feedback 

Giving and receiving feedback is a superpower. Both require grace, preparation, and empathy. When giving feedback, it’s important to be cordial and provide positive feedback in addition to any negative feedback. When receiving feedback, it’s important to listen intently and demonstrate you’ve absorbed the information by acting on the feedback you’ve received. 

Research suggests that employees who receive consistent feedback feel more fulfilled and motivated to do their jobs. Fellow makes sharing real-time feedback on meetings, projects, and performance easier than ever with the Feedback feature. Fellow also integrates into all your favourite everyday tools, making incorporating feedback and tracking progress an easy daily occurrence. 

9Use Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory 

Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory concludes that certain characteristics of a job are consistently related to job satisfaction while other factors are associated with job dissatisfaction. While different factors determine whether or not employees are satisfied and motivated, this theory also reveals that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not opposites. Instead, the opposite of satisfaction is no satisfaction, and the opposite of dissatisfaction is no dissatisfaction.

Solving the causes of dissatisfaction in your workplace will not create satisfaction, similar to the way adding the factors of job satisfaction will not eliminate job dissatisfaction. If you host a negative work environment, giving someone a promotion will not make them satisfied. If you create a healthy work environment but do not provide members of your team with any of the satisfaction factors, the work they’re doing will still not be satisfying. To keep your team motivated, it’s important to find a healthy balance by getting to the root of any problems instead of providing a band-aid solution. This Herzberg’s template will help you eliminate dissatisfaction factors while increasing motivation.

10Provide regular employee recognition 

Providing your employees with the recognition they deserve will not only increase motivation, but it will also create a more positive working environment. Celebrating your team’s wins no matter how big or small is a great way to keep employees engaged and motivated. It’s also important to provide regular employee recognition in shared environments—this will ensure everyone is aware when something positive has occurred while simultaneously creating a culture where your teammates feel comfortable piping up and shouting someone out. 

11Leverage data storytelling 

Leveraging data storytelling is an excellent way to engage and motivate a scaling startup team in a new, innovative way. Not only will leveraging data storytelling evoke a response, but it will also help your team members retain the information being presented. As Catherine Cote explains in the Harvard Business School Business Insights Blog, “Rather than presenting your team with a spreadsheet of data and rattling off numbers, consider how you can engage multiple parts of their brains. Using data storytelling, you can evoke an emotional response on a neural level that can help your points be remembered and acted upon.”

Ready, set, motivate!

Motivation becomes more important than ever in a startup. The stakes are high, and everyone must buy in from the get-go to yield the best results. Learning new ways to motivate a scaling startup team is one of the best things you can do to see early success.

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