Keys to Better Founder-Team Relationships (Part 2 of 2)

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By Jane Leu

At Smarter Good, we work with about 30 Founders and their teams concurrently, on a daily basis, for at least 6 months and often for many years at a time. I’m also the founder of several ventures. Seeing the interactions between founders and their teams has been a wake-up call for me about the ways in which us founders fail our teams and stand in the way of results-making. Witnessing this friction for six years and through reflection on how I make these mistakes myself, I feel compelled to give some friendly advice to founders and teams about small ways they can change to work better–and get more enjoyment–out of working with each other.

Teams, here are 5 ways to work better with your Founder.

1. Appreciate the founding work. 
You may get into your role and look around and be surprised and dismayed that more structures and processes are not in place, or that the organization is not further along than it is. Avoid voicing this to your founder. Take a step back and imagine the blank piece of paper he started with, and the risk it took to decide to start to create something and to get to the point that created your job and funded your salary. Yes, you are right that there is much to improve and a long way to go, but don’t forget to marvel a little that the organization even exists at all. 

2. Know that your question probably isn’t new. 
It’s your job to build the organization and fix things that aren’t working. It’s best to assume that someone before you had the same questions you have, had discussions and meetings about it and created documents, processes, programs, systems to address them. Founders hate wasted effort. Seek out what is there first and then dig in on improving or redesigning it to make it work much better. Your founder will greatly appreciate that you built on what’s there instead of starting from scratch.

3. Ask direct questions to discern brainstorming from directives. 
Founders have lots of ideas, some good, some bad, and it’s their natural inclination to enjoy the creative process, especially brainstorming and throwing around ideas with colleagues. That creativity and dynamism may have even attracted you to the organization. Don’t assume that your founder expects you to implement every idea she throws out in a meeting. At the end of a meeting, run through the ideas surfaced and ask directly, “Are these ideas I should start developing and implementing right away or were we brainstorming for a later time?”

4. If you don’t want the founder’s opinion, don’t ask. 
Founders struggle to keep their hands out of everything. This is because in the beginning they had to have their hands in everything to get the idea into existence. They are comfortable doing everyone’s job because once upon a time, they did everyone’s job. If you ask a founder what he thinks or what he would do, he will always have an opinion. The same goes with documents. He will always want to edit it to sound more like his voice. If you know how to move forward, or want to do or express something your own way, don’t ask the founder for input. Not asking frees the both of you from giving and receiving unwanted input. 

5. Be Appreciative
It’s not easy to work for a founder, and it’s not easy to be a founder. Founders often feel lonely within their organizations, hold a lot of responsibility and are rarely able to share their challenges with their teams. Founders may report to a Board of Directors, but they don’t have a boss who tells them that they are doing a good job. Take a minute here and there to tell your founder when he really excelled, that you appreciate something he did to support the team or that you can tell he is trying hard to hear and respond to constructive feedback from the team. Founders are humans too and thrive on a little bit of appreciation and gratitude. 

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