How to Think Like a Startup

By Emily Marcus, December 4, 2018

The words “startup culture” likely paint a familiar picture: casually dressed millennials working out of a renovated hipster-chic warehouse. They write code while sipping on craft beer and take breaks at the beloved ping-pong table. Not only do these generalizations fail to acknowledge the range of innovation startups create in order to engage and inspire their employees, they also trivialize the essence of what it means to be a startup. By nature, startup employees at any level are forgoing the guaranteed stability of a traditional company in order to pursue a mission that is new, innovative, and often risky.

Many traditions born from startup culture go far beyond mere incentives in order to honor each individual employee’s contribution and dedication to the mission. There is much to be learned from both those specific traditions and the overall mentality startups apply to creating an invigorating office culture.

Entrepreneur and Senior Operating Executive Paul Szyarto, who has successfully launched 27 startups, notes, “Corporate event and meeting planners can learn that not everything has to be scripted to be successful. Sometimes, you must think outside the original plan, even outside the box of the way we normally think, when functioning within a business.”

Looking for inspiration on how to add the pioneering energy of startups to your next corporate meeting? Here are five ideas inspired by the ways startup culture can excite and energize attendees:

  1. Adult recess: Take a break from your meeting or conference, elementary-school style. Serve favorite childhood snacks and offer games like giant Jenga or four square.
  2. Field trips: Imagine travelling for a conference to a city you’ve never seen or dreamed of going to, but the schedule is too packed for you to explore. Incorporating a visit to a local museum, aquarium, tourist attraction or sporting event not only provides a much-needed break from corporate space, but also honors those attendees who travel often on the job.
  3. Staying active: Some startups go so far as to hold yoga or Zumba classes in the office or to establish running, push-up or squat challenges or competitions. Getting everyone moving can enliven any event.,Plus as Szyarto adds, “Games, competitions and group challenges promote higher productivity rates and innovation.”
  4. Spice up snack time: Forgo the sad tray of pastries. Give attendees a taste of local flavor by bringing in a favorite food truck. Benefits include better bites and a revitalizing outdoor break. Whatever the local dish is, from Chicago style deep-dish to Boston clam chowder, consider offering a tasting where attendees can vote on their favorites.
  5. Relinquish control: Many startups have a tradition that allows employees to take ownership over office social activities, such as establishing a “fun czar” or providing individual funds to use towards social activities. Consider sending out a pre-event survey for attendees to choose activities or food options.

It’s easy to take these ideas at face-value, as simple ways to make work more fun and less, well, work. However, because these traditions stem from the startup mentality of both thinking outside the box and critically valuing their employees, they go far beyond fun and contribute to a truly ideal work environment for any office or corporate event.

Nikole Michalak, account manager at Sprout Social Inc., says, “The culture [is] upbeat, welcoming, fun and overall caring. I know, no matter what, I am supported in my job because I am surrounded by a team that genuinely wants to help me grow as a person in both my career and life outside of work.”

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