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3 ways to stop organizing your startup to death

You might think that a successful founder needs to be well-organized with a structured approach. After all, failing to plan is planning to fail, right? Not quite...

by Lakshmi Singh
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“Order, order!” might work for a judge in a courtroom. But, in a startup workspace, it’s the opposite scenario that will see your business thrive. 

We studied founders over two decades and found that a less structured approach than Judge Judy might approve of is critical for entrepreneurial success. Here’s why.

Why knowing how much structure you prefer is key.

Structure refers to your level of energy and priority on planning the resources and parts of a project or task. Does that mean that accountants, developers and engineers don’t stand a chance of succeeding in starting a business?

Not quite.

While founders are often criticized by corporate leaders (and sometimes boards) for their low focus on details, procedures and planning, it's this very low priority that correlates with venture success. In fact, a too high or too low focus on structure is found within those who experienced business failure.

In an early startup, too high a focus on structure might find you in danger of stalling. At this stage, it’s important to pare back the focus on planning - just not right to back to zero. Founders do need a small degree of structure, but can become unstuck if all planning, no action becomes the cultural norm.

Structure becomes much, much more important as a business scales. Being able to effectively manage resources and teams and plan efficiently is critical when leading a large organization. 

But, what if you use an Asana checklist for household chores, create a Gantt chart to project manage a mate’s surprise birthday party or use Jira to run the family’s schedule?

Here are three simple tricks that might just help dial down your urge to organize the bejesus out of your business: 

1. Park the habit of planning and invest instead in on-the-spot problem-solving.

Remember the good old skill requested by many job ads: “Ability to think on your feet”?

Well, as an entrepreneur, this skill is gold! Remember, successful entrepreneurs are able to adapt and change, and often thrive in uncertainty - there’s not much room for structure in this end of town! Try to let this become an acceptable state of mind. Think like an entrepreneur - plan less and use the moment to organize solutions as the needs arise. 

2. Embed a culture of curiosity in your business. 

In a recent article in Entrepreneur magazine, Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn founder says, “To successfully grow a business, you must ‘expect chaos’.” In an early-stage startup, it’s almost impossible to avoid. Normalize this by questioning everything, from processes to products to people. 

Give your founding team your blessing to wear multiple hats, work across the business, patch problems as they arise and foster a culture of problem-solving on the fly. Be fluid in your approach.

Chances are your founding team will appreciate the potential this offers. As F4S CTO Joe Tyson says:

“Stop with the fake work, start with the real work.”

3. Need help ‘winging it’?

Why not learn first-hand from those who do it so well? Look for a mentor, a co-founder or set of team members that strike the right balance of planning with a whole mother load of rolling up their sleeves and figuring it out on the fly. 

 
Wondering just how high - or low - your subconscious focus on structure really is? You might be surprised! Join the F4S community to instantly discover just how your preference for a little "order, order!" stacks up. 

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