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The Importance of a “Social Team Culture”

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If the average startup team member works 50 hours a week and gets 8 hours sleep a night, that means we all spend around 44% of the time we’re awake, at work. With nearly all of that time spent in the presence of your colleagues discussing work related subjects, where and when do people gain the opportunity to engage with them on a personal level?

What I mean by this is; Do your employees know more about the person sat next to them than just their name? Do they understand what they’re interested in and what drives them?

A recent study by OfficeVibe revealed that “office friendships have a direct link with engagement and productivity”, so can we really afford not to be nurturing social interaction within our companies?

The Competing Values Framework by Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn is a useful tool for breaking down the three main areas regarding company culture as a whole;

  • Type (what is your culture)
  • Strength (how strong is it)
  • Congruence (how consistent is it)

The social aspect of your team culture feeds directly into the strength and congruence sections of this matrix. For defining your culture and how to hire for it, check out our Head of Talent’s post on ‘‘Hiring for Cultural Fit’.

Social team culture means much more than just the monthly social, it’s also the everyday interactions you provide and cultivate within your office environment that allow social activity to happen. Below I discuss some considerations for promoting and improving your social team culture.

Start from the top

Investing time into social activity with your team inside and outside the workplace starts from the top. Manager contribution and investment plays a big part in how the rest of the team perceives “fun” and non-work related activity. Particularly in small startups, team members often adopt the same approach founders and managers have to socialising, believing if they don’t do the same it’ll be frowned upon. If you want to promote a cohesive, engaged and open team environment, lead by example. Be present, be positive and avoid talking shop outside of meetings & work discussions.

Office Layout

Optimising the layout of the desks in your office can work wonders in creating ‘accidental interactions’. Long banks of desks make approaching co-workers for an off-the-cuff ‘how was your weekend?’ conversation extremely difficult. Instead, opt for smaller banks of desks that break up team cliques and eliminate employees with their backs to the office.

This can also be said for communal areas such as kitchens and breakout areas. Just like in the home, kitchens are hives of activity; where there’s food, there’s people. Focus on making these areas as accommodating and comfortable as possible. Long lunch benches and a variety of breakout areas encourage people to stay and engage for longer.

Organised Socials

Monthly socials, although commonplace, are extremely important for workplace culture. They’re not just about allowing your team to socialise, they’re also an opportunity to say; ‘you work really hard, let your hair down’. The real battle with a team social is attendance, it doesn’t matter how hard you try, there will always be a handful who feel slightly uncomfortable by the unknown entity that is ‘organised fun’. Don’t lose sleep over the few, it’s impossible to please everyone, but aim for the many and hope the few are converted in time. Avoid imposing a calendar of events that doesn’t compliment your team, listen to them, gain informal feedback and try ideas they suggest . After a couple of tries you’ll get a feel of what works for the majority and matches your culture.

Informal socials

Keeping the frequency of social activity going is also important, here at Forward Partners we have several weekly activities that involve all or just a handful of employees. We have weekly team lunches, Friday beers with peers, coffee walks, pub lunches, team lunches, 1:1’s on the tennis court. All informal and open to all, but not compulsory. Most of these have developed out of friendships made between colleagues and extended into more regular occurrences with more colleagues. Enhanced frequency and the strength of your social culture will come from facilitating a freedom for employees to define what fun means to them, who they choose to have it with and when.

Get ahead of the game

We’ve had really positive feedback at Forward Partners on the benefits of getting future employees engaged in social activity before they officially start. Notice periods are no-man’s land for employees, so get ahead of the game by integrating them into their new company quicker by inviting them to socials. You’ve then halved all of your formal first day introductions and given a taster of the culture they’ll be contributing to. Hopefully it’ll get them excited for the new chapter to come and already have kicked started their social journey with the team.

Just as culture will vary from company to company, so will the ways in which employees socialise with each other. Organised fun, is no fun. However, offering a consistent, supportive and varied offering of social engagement allows employees to define relationships and opt into a social culture that works for them.

If you’ve hired the right people who are living your shared values, the social culture will flourish as long as it has the right foundations.

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About the Author

This article was written by Tara Howard, Operations Manager at the  Path Forward. The Path Forward was developed by Forward Partners, a VC platform that invests in the best ideas and brilliant people. Forward Partners devised The Path Forward to help their founders validate their ideas, build a product, achieve traction, hire a team and raise follow on funding all in the space of 12 months. The Path Forward is a fantastic startup framework for you to utilise as an early stage founder or operator. The framework clearly defines startup creation as being comprised of three steps. The first step of this framework involves understanding customer’s needs.Nic is Head of PR & communications at Forward Partners. Over the course of a 10 year career in communications, he has working with global brands including Orange, Warner Bros., BBC, and amazon.co.uk.

Startups

The Most Important Tech Job that Doesn’t Exist

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Yesterday I asked a prominent VC a question:

“Why is it that, despite the fact that so many successful startup ideas come from academic research, on the investment side there doesn’t seem to be anyone vetting companies on the basis of whether or not what they’re doing is consistent with the relevant research and best practices from academia?”

His response was that, unlike with startups in other sectors (e.g. biotech, cleantech, etc.), most tech startups don’t come out of academia, but rather are created to fill an unmet need in the marketplace. And that neither he nor many of his colleagues spent much time talking with academics for this reason.

This seems to be the standard thinking across the industry right now. But despite having nothing but respect for this investor, I think the party line here is unequivocally wrong.

Let’s start with the notion that most tech startups don’t come out of academia. While this may be true if you consider only the one-sentence pitch, once you look at the actual design and implementation choices these startups are making there is typically quite a lot to work with.

For example, there is a startup I recently looked at that works to match mentors with mentees. Though one might not be aware of it, there is actually a wealth of research into best practices:

  • What factors should be used when matching mentors with mentees?
  • How should the relationship between the mentor and mentee be structured?
  • What kind of training, if any, should be given to the participants?

That’s not to say that a startup that’s doing something outside the research, or even contraindicated by the research, is in any way suspect. But it does raise some questions: Does the startup have a good reason for what they’re doing? Are they aware of the relevant research? Is there something they know that we don’t?

If the entrepreneurs have good answers to these questions then it’s all the more reason to take them seriously. But if they don’t then this should raise a few red flags. And it’s not only niche startups in wonky areas where this is an issue.

For example, I rarely post to Facebook anymore, but people who follow me can still get a good idea of what I’m up to. Why? Because Facebook leverages the idea of behavioral residue to figure out what I’m doing (and let my friends know) without me having to explicitly post updates. It does this by using both interior behavioral residue, e.g. what I’m reading and clicking on within the site, and exterior behavioral residue, e.g. photos of me taken outside of Facebook.

To understand why leveraging behavioral residue is so important for social networks, consider that of people who visit the typical website only about 10% will make an account. Of those about 10% will make at least one content contribution, and of those about 10% will become core contributors. So if you consider your typical user with a couple hundred friends, this translates into seeing content from only a tiny handful of other people on a regular basis.

In contrast with Facebook, one of the reason why FourSquare has yet to succeed is due to significant problems with their initial design decisions:

  • The only content on the site comes from users who manually check into locations and post updates. This means that of my 150 or so friends, I’m only seeing what one or two of them are actually doing, so what’s the value?
  • The heavy use of extrinsic motivation (e.g. badges) has been shown time and again that extrinsic motivation undermines intrinsic motivation.

The latter especially is a good example of why investing on traction alone is problematic: many startups that leverage extrinsic rewards are able to get a good amount of initial traction, but almost none of them are able to retain users or cross the chasm into the mainstream. Why isn’t it anyone’s job to know this, even though the research is readily available for any who wants to read it? And why is it so hard to go to any major startup event without seeing VCs showering money on these sorts of startups that are so contraindicated by the research that they have almost no realistic chance of succeeding?

This same critique of investors applies equally to the startups themselves. You probably wouldn’t hire an attorney who wasn’t willing to familiarize himself with the relevant case law before going to court. So why is it that the vast majority of people hired as community managers and growth marketers have never read Robert Kraut? And the vast majority of people hired to create mobile apps have never heard of Mizuko Ito?

A lot of people associate the word design with fonts, colors, and graphics, but what the word actually means is fate — in the most existential sense of the word. That is, good design literally makes it inevitable that the user will take certain actions and have certain subjective experiences. While good UX and graphic design are essential, they’re only valuable to the extent that the person doing them knows how to create an authentic connection with the users and elicit specific emotional and social outcomes. So why are we hiring designers mainly on their Photoshop skills and maybe knowing a few tricks for optimizing conversions on landing pages? What a waste.

Of all the social sciences, the following seem to be disproportionately valuable in terms of creating and evaluating startups:

  • Psychology / Social Psychology
  • Internet Psychology / Computer Mediated Communication
  • Cognitive Development / Early Childhood Education
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Sociology
  • Education Research
  • Behavioral Economics

And yet not only is no one hiring for this, but having expertise in these areas likely won’t even get you so much as a nominal bonus. I realize that traction and team will always be the two biggest factors in determining which startups get funded, but have we really become so myopic as to place zero value on knowing whether or not a startup is congruent or contraindicated by the last 80+ years of research?

So should you invest in (or work for) the startup that sends text messages to people reminding them to take their medicine? How about the one that lets you hire temp laborers using cell phones? Or the app for club owners that purports to increase the amount of money spent on drinks? In each of these cases there is a wealth of relevant literature that can be used to help figure out whether or not the founders have done their homework and how likely they are to succeed. And it seems like if you don’t have someone whose willing to invest a few hours to read the literature then you’re playing with a significant handicap.

Investors often wait months before investing in order to let a little more information surface, during which time the valuation can (and often does) increase by literally millions. Given that the cost of doing the extra research for each deal would be nominal in the grand scheme of things, and given the fact that this research can benefit not only the investors but also the portfolio companies themselves, does it really make sense to be so confident that there’s nothing of value here?

What makes the web special is that it’s not just a technology or a place, but a set of values. That’s what we were all originally so excited about. But as startups become more and more prosaic, these values are largely becoming lost. As Howard Rheingold once said, “The ‘killer app’ of tomorrow won’t be software or hardware devices, but the social practices they make possible.” You can’t step in the same river twice, but I think there’s something to be said for startups that make possible truly novel and valuable social practices, and for creating a larger ecosystem that enables them.

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About the Author

This article was written by Alex Krupp. see more.

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Strategy

3 Trends that Define Content Marketing in 2018

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These are the questions every digital business is desperately trying to find answers to today. But as anyone who works in content marketing knows, it’s never that simple. There are no quick tricks or insider shortcuts; to achieve sustained traffic through organic search, you simply need to be in it for the long haul.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to get ahead. Providing you already follow the bible of content marketing — regularly publishing high-quality, valuable content for your readers — then there are more opportunities than ever to break free from the crowd and get noticed.

Successful content marketers keep one eye on the present and one eye on the future. They know there’s never one ‘right’ strategy that will always lead to triumph; just a set of continually changing principles and methods that need to be tested, used, and thrown out, tested again, used again, and thrown out again.

Here are three of the big emerging trends that are already making waves in content marketing and will help place you one step ahead going into 2018.

#1 The Rise of Machine learning

Machine learning, a subset of AI in which algorithms continually learn from inputted data and information, is changing the way we work, and at the same time, putting many folks out of business.

From automatically generating email content to curating content for social media, there’s little machine learning can’t do. And come a few years, when the full potential of the technology is realised and made more affordable, there’s little it won’t be doing.

In fact, by as soon as 2018, it’s predicted 20 percent of all business contentwill be authored by machines. Content like quarterly reports, profit/loss summaries, and real-time stock insights that follow set patterns and structures.

It’ll be a while yet before machines are producing creative content like opinion pieces and niche ebooks, though. In 2018, machine learning will begin its gradual takeover by securing its place as a content marketer’s best friend: helping them to create the right content, for the right audience, at the right time. This is data-driven marketing, and it’s arguably the biggest differentiator between an expert content marketing push and your bog standard everyday strategy.

#2 Co-creating the content world

The days of creating and promoting content as an independent marketer and being successful are dying. To make an impact today, it’s all but essential to forge partnerships and collaborate with others who can offer you and your audience something you don’t have.

More often than not, brands who execute winning content strategies today are working with influencers or bloggers or some person or another outside of their network. It may be to harness expertise and create content that can’t be found anywhere else, to expand reach to a broader segment of their audience, or simply build valuable relationships that strengthen their brand.

Everyone always has something someone else needs, so opportunities for co-creating or co-promoting content are huge. And with double the benefits from half the effort, so are the potential results.

#3 Personalisation is the new quality

Big brands are investing heavily in original content. Google is purchasing original content from media companies to fill gaps in their search algorithms. It’s clearly what the people want; but what exactly does it mean to make something original today?

It’s no longer enough to just put words together in an order they haven’t been before. Original content is content that resonates with a particular audience and is delivered from a place of authority. It offers new insights, preferably based on primary data, is trustworthy, i.e. thoroughly researched and referenced, and above all, is highly personalised for its readers.

Personalisation is becoming most important of all as today, 74 percent of online consumers get frustrated when content appears to have nothing to do with their interests. Expectations are higher than ever, and with many brands embracing dynamic content, if readers don’t get a customised experience from you, they’ll go get it elsewhere.

With advancing technology and growing demand for superior experiences, content marketing is getting smarter by the day. This makes it even more crucial for businesses to keep on top of the latest trends and be the ones to make the first moves. In 2018, it will be the brands that are bold enough to jump first and make the biggest splash who get the greatest results from their content efforts.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Connected, U.K.’s first specialist WordPress development company. see more.

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