Team Building for Startups — How to Build a Team of Explorers?

18 min read
Team Building for Startups — How to Build a Team of Explorers?

The essence of growth of the organization and creation of a product begins by putting in place an effective winning team. And for startup organizations, the team size may be considerably smaller, and building them along with building the organization goes hand in glove.

Building a team involves bringing remote co-workers to work on a common goal. And each of them may vary in their skills, thinking, personality traits, and demographic backgrounds too, see hiring developers for a startup.

With all the variances the organization has to grow and that happens through building people. “Build the people. And people will build the business”. And hence the importance of team building activities and programs.

What is team building for startups?

Team building is a conscious process that motivates, inspires, and puts team members into acting in unison towards a common goal by giving up their personal differences in behavior, thoughts, and methods.

Team building involves performing actions and undergoing processes that motivate team members to work with each and leverage each other’s support and expertise in accomplishing a shared goal. This requires an investment of time, money, and effort from the organization.

In software development for startups, team building is even more important because they have very little scope to fail. A single failure may take them down forever.

And each person comes in with a different set of skills, expertise, and experience. Synchronizing them requires not just some well-crafted and well-defined processes, but also an effort to make the processes work by means of activities.

Why is remote team building important?

One of the best companies that promote team building in an innovative way is Google. They have a concept of coffee shop engagement. They encourage their employees to interact and share their ideas and view in an informal way. This creates an environment that encourages creativity.

See our how to build and manage remote engineering teams article for more tips, tools and best practises.

One of the best outcomes of this office culture is people get to interact and collaborate with others from multiple countries and backgrounds which creates an opportunity to listen to diverse views and bring the best solutions to challenges. It is worth mentioning some of the best outcomes of team-building activities such as below.

Read More: 7 Key Elements of Building Software Development Teams
  • Onboarding

    Employees come from different backgrounds in the areas of education, experience, age, demography, gender, and cultural upbringing. Each may have different personality traits. Team building activities encourage a sense of belongingness in the fastest way possible that the employee can express themselves freely and connect with others. The time that it takes a new joiner to get accustomed to the office environment will be shortened drastically.

  • Employee Engagement

    Routine and monotony are two words that can kill creativity. An office environment where delivering a task is the only motive, people slowly tend to withdraw from their initial enthusiasm. This is when employees start looking for a change of job. But in essence what they are looking for is a breakaway from monotony and look for the freshness in learning something new, or contributing more or engaging themselves more with the organization is at a deeper level of participation. The best of the organizations focus more on retention of employees more than that of recruitment. Team building programs help in retention thereby reducing the cost to the organization.

  • Company Strategic Growth

    Start up companies are unique from the point of view that the future leaders are formed through new employees. The best of the start ups focus on building their employees and encourage them to grow within the organization. They encourage their teams to contribute to the growth of the company by expecting them to share their ideas. Employees in such organizations are not just limited to performing their tasks and ending the day but are involved in decision-making through a flat structure of leadership. Leadership in such organizations is not defined by age and experience but by the level of involvement shown by the employee. Team building is very effective to create a bond and trust between people where they can express their diverse views freely and creatively.

  • Startup Company Culture

    A culture of inclusiveness where everyone has the freedom to collaborate, express themselves and their capabilities along with a clear pathway to growth is a positive work environment. A company that doesn’t have a defined culture by default nurtures unhealthy competition, secretive behavioral patterns that result in low productivity and output. It is important that a startup company keeps this important factor in mind while growing the organization. This is because growth is defined not just by sales numbers but the quality of the people who produce it. For a startup company to play a long-term game, nurturing a well-defined work culture is the key.

Benefits of remote team building for the entire team

  • Discovering and improving hidden talents

    An employee’s performance is gauged based on the performance on their key result areas. But how does the organization know what the individual is capable of apart from their work? Team building activities help discover the talents of the people. Some may be great singers; some may be great organizers. We have seen some organizations have fantastic soccer players in their company and the organization promotes its players through sponsorship. This nurtures the creativity in an individual that reflects in the day-to-day work environment too.

  • A natural way to identify leaders

    Team Building activities and programs create the opportunity to identify people who are willingly taking ownership and responsibility of tasks. That is a leadership thought pattern. The way the employees involve themselves in the team building exercises reflects a lot about them which otherwise may not be easy to recognize the normal functioning of work. Again, unless there is an opportunity for people to express themselves, how will an organization or the management teams know who their people are and how they can nurture them.

  • Learning to work as one team with the same values

    Trust and cohesiveness are factors that influence the bond people share while working. A valuable contribution and collaboration happen only when the culture of the organization is positive. The culture is driven through team building exercises. The specific processes help people come together as one. Employees are people with different personality traits, likes and dislikes. The wall of indifference based on likes and dislikes, when broken, creates acceptance for one another. This is a very important step for an organization because differences of opinions keep piling up over time and only regular team building exercises help clear them paving the way for a good work environment.

  • Approachability

    Gone are the days where there was a huge distance in approachability between the project management teams and the front-end staff. The walls are broken where employees have the freedom to approach and communicate with the higher ups at many levels. The ease of communication happens when people are trained in a way to feel responsible for their actions and their productivity. People feel they can contribute if they have a good bond with the management. And the same people will perform the task out of obligation if there is a gap in approachability with their bosses. Specific team building programs can erase these lines of indifference and promote shared values to create valuable outcomes.

Remote team building activities for startup

Not so long ago, people used to travel to the actual place of work every day. Since the advent of Covid19, the workstation is a laptop and a desk at home. Organizations are finding out creative ways to bond and do team activities online. Some of the team building activities are listed here.

  • Create Weekend Zoom Parties

    A simple zoom call with videos on and the team merry together is a fun way to end the week. A good coordinator will be a great asset as he or she can pump up the energy. Maybe a cocktail party wouldn’t be a bad idea after all. Regular weekend video meetings should be consistent and the employees should feel the end of the week with a smile and keep looking forward to more.

  • Virtual Training Programs

    Technical and knowledge-based training which is directly relevant to the work is one. And at the same time adding personal development programs to the training schedule creates more enthusiasm. For instance, one of the world’s largest IT companies- Tata Consultancy Services has a big training wing that focuses exclusively on personal development training for their employees. The topics are sent over the emails and people can enroll to build themselves. This is a powerful idea where an employee has the choice to evolve personally and professionally.

  • Share Positive News and Information

    A piece of good news stimulates the mood of an individual. Frequent buzz of positive information keeps people always engaged in positive talk and mindset. Even during the team meetings, you can infuse positive feelings by sharing things that can help people. In the midst of so much going on in the world today and at home, having meetings talking about the good stuff make people look forward to attending the meetings out of self-interest and not an obligatory presence.

  • Engage People to Share their Life Story and Appreciate them

    One of the most powerful skills is the art of listening and sharing. This is the quickest and surest way of winning trust and likability. Create an online platform where people can share who they are and what they did till now and what they choose to do in the future. The rest of the team has to just listen and encourage the speaker to speak more. And at the end of the sharing appreciate and share how you felt. This can be done in reasonably smaller startup teams. Maybe you can begin with 2 participants each week and keep continuing.

  • Play a Game Online

    There are online platforms that have interesting and fun games where everyone can play together. It is fun and involves everyone participating. Having a day named exclusively for playing can be fun. It can be named Fun Wednesday. It can be an end-of-day exercise. Why hold the fun till the weekend? Weekdays can be fun too.

The best way to break the ice between employees

  • Enact the Movie name

    This is a fun game that involves everyone to the task of identifying the movie name. One of the team members is given a movie name and he or she has to enact it only with hand and body signs till everyone comes up with the name within a timeline. This brings out enthusiasm and creative expression.

  • Theme based Dressing Day

    People can wear the traditional costume of their demographic culture on a chosen work day. In a recent post on linkedin we saw a picture where the company asked its employees to dress up the way they used to when working from home. This was to encourage and help with the transition to physical office in a fun and creative way.

  • Dream Chart

    Employees can write down a list of 10 dreams that they want to achieve in their life. And then ask them to google the images for each of the dreams. There are online collage making websites and once can create a dream chart in two hours of fun and belongingness and they can present their dream charts as a screen share.

When you what to welcome a new face on the board

  • Share Most Significant Contribution

    This practice is to empower the new person on board as well as others to know the strength that the team is receiving. The employee is given an opportunity to speak on how he/she handled a challenge or how he/she responded to a critical situation that helped the team where they previously worked with. The others can appreciate the contribution and welcome the person on board with encouragement.This is a simple but effective practice to get to know each other.

  • Specific Trainings with Case studies

    Specific training related to team effectiveness through cohesive existence from leaders of successful teams. They can share stories on how their performances increased and how they think and act. This can be an ongoing process that encourages team building as a cultural tool of the organization to learn and grow.

  • Ease of Communication

    Create the ease for the new person or people on board to ask any question relevant or irrelevant to the work at hand. This creates the possibility for the new employees to ease into the job role quickly and not be afraid to make mistakes and correct them through approachability of their leaders.

For building a strong company culture

  • Consistency of Events

    It is noticed that successful corporations have predictable annual events. Consistency is the key that shows the seriousness of the organization to ‘reach out to their employees on a regular basis’. Formal annual town hall meetings show that the company wants their employees to know the growth and direction of the organization going forward. Informal events show that they value their employees and want them to know that they care. Consistency is the key.

  • Clarity of Vision and Mission

    A culture of the organization takes form once they know why they are here. An organization that knows where they are going, also knows who they want to take along. Clarity of their vision shows where they are going and clarity of mission shows what they want to contribute along the way. Apple is one of organizations which stresses upon the fact of who they are. Every employee in the organization knows why they are there. They have to think differently and focus on limitless innovation. And that culture has become the brand of the organization which people relate with.

The best 6 tools for remote team building

Slack capabilities

No matter where you belong in the organizational chart of your company, you can make sure to communicate effectively with your team and others where needed. Be it IT, marketing, sales, human resources, engineering, or even security, slack brings together enterprise solutions. Some of the major corporations such as FOX, Netflix, Uber, and Expedia use the technologies of Slack for communication channels within the organization at all levels.

Remote Retrospective with Trello

Retrospective meetings involve discussions on what worked and what did not work or what changes need to be made for improvement. Mostly used by the Agile software development teams, they highlight all the actionable in a fun and interactive way. For remote teams this is a breather to express themselves better during team team meetings or after the end of the meetings. And most importantly they can communicate their feelings and opinions freely and effectively. Below are some of the ways to communicate.

The Warm-Up: One-word / One image

This is a way to find out if the team is really looking forward to being in the scheduled meeting or not. The responses are gathered anonymously and the leader will get to know the mood of the team to move forward.

For instance one can post a question asking ESVP.

E- Explorer: They want to learn more about the project.

S- Shopper: They are seeking more information and what they can get as actionables.

V- Vacationer: They want to get away from their desk at the moment.

P- Prisoner: They would rather do something else at the moment.

The responses are taken anonymously and based on the mood of the team the decision to have the meeting or to reschedule is decided through a conversation.

Another tool is to gather one word from the good team. Happiness, Sadness, Frustration etc on a scale of 1 to 10. Based on which the retrospectives are reasoned.

Scenario1: Stop – Keep – Start (SKS)

  • Stop: What needs to be stopped effective immediately
  • Keep: What has worked and needs to be continued and improved
  • Start: What needs to be started anew which was not done before

This is a simple way to communicate on what needs to STOP, What needs to be KEPT going, and what needs to be STARTED now that hasn't been done till now. This is a follow up process to dissect larger discussions into simple pieces to bring about actionable conclusions.

Trello board allows to keep the (SKS) list visually present to discuss on the retrospective meetings that are coming up. It also allows team members to add to the same before the meeting which needs discussion.

Scenario1: Academy Awards Retrospective

The principle idea behind trello is to make communication swift and effective. The academy awards retrospective is to identify which of the items contributed to the best outcome. It is rated as

  • Best: or exiting, innovative, educative, valuable
  • Annoying: being challenging, sluggish
  • Complex: Inconclusive

Again, the three categories are put on the virtual board and each team member is asked to choose the category and leave the third category blank for the team to identify and come together on something common that they agree upon which is missing.

Scenario1: The Speedboat Retro

This is a process to direct the thoughts and direction of the discussion within the team within a designed framework. The framework is as below:

  • Island/Vision- Set the short-term, mid or long-term goal for the project.
  • Wind/ What helps the team: What is needed to get it done better, faster and qualitative.
  • Anchor/Things to Improve: What has gone wrong or areas to improve within the team
  • The Rocks/Risks: Things that need deep analysis to stop future challenges and impediments.

Up-to-date with Team Canvas

Team Canvas is a tool to build stronger teams. It is designed to facilitate structured conversations between team members and drive the communication channel creatively and motivate the employees to speak and contribute. In the long run, it helps build the organization’s culture.

Culture is the actionable mood of the organization that drives systematic functioning on a day-to-day basis. What people think, feel and act and contribute is based on the culture-driven within the organization from top-bottom. Innovation and thinking differently from the rest of the world is the culture of Apple Inc. People buy Apple products not because of the product features but for what it represents.

Brainstorm with Miro

Miro is a virtual collaboration tool. Some of the best corporations in the world such as DELL, Cisco, and Deloitte use this platform for seamless communication for team building for remote teams. During the pandemic shutdown and work from home scenario, Miro stood out as one of the best tools to seamlessly transfer to a remote location workspace. Be it video conferencing, screen shared video shares, file transfers, digital whiteboards, and tools without compromising on security.

Helpjuice as knowledge base

Helpjuice organization is in itself a remote working company. They create a knowledge-sharing platform. One of the successful models of team building organizations.

Building people required effective and consistent knowledge sharing. For instance, the largest It company in the world Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has a knowledge hub that drives internal management to share their expertise in training and platforms for their employees to access and learn.

More often, mentoring is the critical aspect that builds people to the level of thought and growth within the organization. Helpjuice offers the platform to learn through the knowledge base that has been created.

Coffee break with Donut

Donut is an online community platform that helps collaborate with everyone in the organization. Team meetings and team retreats were no show since 2020 pandemic lockdowns across the world. Donut bridged the gap and has made online retreats and team gatherings a fun place to be. Used by some of the large corporations such as Wall Street Journal and Netflix, donut platforms can be used for team introductions, meetings, fun events, and games and help get to know each other with creative tools. No more gaps in the team-building process with the use of Donut.


The finance director of a firm asked, “what if we spend so much money on employee training and team building and they leave suddenly?”. The CEO answered, “What happens if we do not train them and they stay?!”

The Chairman of the Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson said, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat people well enough so they don't want to”. People are the fundamental strength of an organization. Not the product, not the services. People First. The best organizations, be it at the startup stage or large corporations understand this and engage in team-building activities.

Team building is the essence that brings people together to create something valuable and productive. For an organization with a long-term vision and ready to contribute to the world, team building is a continuous process and part of the startup's culture. Anything if otherwise lacks vision. Build people first culture!