Chris, Tom, Jack, and Pat* were co-founders of a venture-backed startup that were having difficulties coming to a decision regarding their company’s future.
“We need to create a steady revenue stream”, said Jack, “by focusing on where our current user base is located or else we won’t get anymore money”, to which Pat agreed.
“But if we do that then we risk losing all the users we gathered by having our app be national. We may never get them back”, countered Chris.
The founders went back-and-forth like this, unable to agree on how to move forward and what strategy to enact.
Chris and Tom wanted to pursue a broader market while Jack and Pat wanted to narrow the scope, thinking that concentrating on a local market would ensure a steady revenue stream needed to scale and secure future investment.
Unable to move forward, they were stuck.
Their equity split meant they each had an equal say on the decision, and their inability to agree on next steps was starting to hurt their company’s growth.
Situations like these are common.
Founders who disagree with each other obtain better outcomes, have stronger relationships, and guarantee a highly-collaborative relationship.
But instead of arguing with one another, these founders navigate the complexity of difficult situations through a collaborative process that aligns the startup’s short-term interests with its long-term objectives.
Learn how to do it too through these four steps:
Declare a distraction-free zone with the intention that you’ll spend at the very least an hour hashing out everyone’s ideas.
Spend the first 10–15 minutes having everyone write out their ideas.
Get as thorough as possible.
Then have each person write them out on a large white board, explaining their process or what lead them to want to add that idea or suggestion.
This hybrid brainstorming approach results in three times more productive ideas than if everyone just put out their ideas all at once.
And in the end you will have a list of suggestions that you’ll rank.
Next, the founder team will have to rank each suggestion with a numerical value that, collectively, will equal 100.
Have everyone individually do this first and then bring the team together to come up with a collective list.
That way you know what is really important to the team versus what is something that is willing to be “trade for.”
Use these numbers later to negotiate around the different choices and to synthesize a collaborative solution that everyone can live with.
This is where things will get interesting.
Facilitating a conversation between Jack, Tom, Pat, and Chris showed that they could agree on one thing: they needed to change gears and couldn’t keep doing business as usual.
They only arrived at this decision after about a half-hour of going back-and-forth and realizing that they weren’t actually listening to each other.
Or else they would have caught the statement Chris made where he said, “I just don’t see how we can keep doing things they way we have”, to which Jack said, “I agree.”
I had to stop the four from continuing in order to highlight that concession as well as acceptance from Jack to Chris’ statement.
Shared reality is what happens when others see the world as you do and then find a way to let you know. It’s very unsettling when others don’t share your understanding of reality. When they do, however, it puts people on the same team and opens them up to collaboration. Procedural justice is about getting a fair hearing. It’s when people can ask themselves, “Did I get a chance to actually be heard?” and answer in the affirmative. We’re far more likely to accept an outcome if we feel like we’ve been listened to and understood. Not only does finding something to agree on fulfill both of these psychological needs, but research also suggests that people tend to automatically reciprocate. So when you agree, your opponent is more likely to find something else to agree with you about in turn. (Source: Forbes)After they did this the entire conversation shifted.
Instead of arguing with one another there was more space now for listening, for agreeing, and for finding the smallest commonalities that would lead to the major decision of changing their market strategy.
A disagreement that lingered for 3 months was suddenly being resolved to everyone’s liking.
The last step for Chris, Tom, Pat, and Jack was to make sure that the decision they came to ultimately lined up with the company’s values/vision.
They had decided to narrow the market focus of their product to two localities where they had physical offices and decided to communicate this to their employees all at the same time via their annual company retreat.
Their startup valued transparency, innovation, radical candor, and freethinking, so their decision ultimately acknowledged these.
And because their long-term vision was to validate their business model and scale their product, their decision ultimately made the most sense.
This last step, while seeming inconsequential, will make sure no resentments linger as you go forward with the decision all together.
Trust me, you’ll all be better for it.
Bottom line: work backwards and agree on something small first before tackling the bigger problem. Create a space where everyone’s ideas and suggestions can be acknowledged. And keep the best interests of the company in mind when coming to a final decision.
*Names were changed to protect confidentiality of clients.