By Aldair Borges

Often as organizations scale, they lose their edge. Things start to move slower, and innovation can feel few and far between. This post will outline seven key points I’ve learned for maintaining an innovative edge within a cross-functional product team, enabling growth and promoting creativity.

1. Empower your teams

Workplace culture isn’t the main thing people look for when joining a company, but it’s certainly one of the reasons people stay, or in some cases, leave.

As an organization scales, we often hear leadership teams emphasizing the importance of maintaining that “start-up” feeling of innovation and experimentation. You know, that magic sauce that got us where we are today! The gritty ideas that push boundaries and spur innovation, the start-up culture.

So how does one maintain the same start-up feel with all its quirks and benefits when you move from a team of 30 people in a company to over 700? In my experience, it’s all about empowered teams.

Marty Cagan coined the phrase “empowered teams” in his book, Inspired, and later wrote a book by the same name. Empowered teams have the freedom to grow, experiment, and try new things, but they are also accountable for the work they do. From my experience working at a scaling start-up, empowered teams are essential to helping you grow and maintain your culture.

2. Make people feel seen and heard

What I valued most about working in a small company was the camaraderie and transparency.

People want to feel heard and that their voice matters. When I ask people why they’re interested in a start-up and not a corporate gig, most of them tell me the same thing: “I don’t want to be just another number”; “I like my team; it’s nice working with people that actually care about my well-being or how my family is doing”; “l just moved to this city or country, I meet most of my friends at x job, we’re like-minded and enjoy hanging out”.

If you’re like me, all these stories are great! They are relatable and make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. But we need to be realistic. When you scale, things change, and that’s okay. You can still build a strong culture in the hubs and departments across your organization.

3. Hire the right people

As your business grows, you start to know fewer people. The hellos by name, or “How are the kids?” turn into polite good mornings. You’re more likely to meet someone new at the water cooler than someone you know. Scary, right?

What happened to the company you joined?! Same snacks, different people?! Companies grow, and new people come. But that doesn’t mean the type of people who are hired drastically changes. In fact, I’ve found quite the opposite. You have more people, from more backgrounds, with more interesting knowledge. The conversation changes, and your world gets bigger.

Who you hire is what matters, simple as that. Hire people that embody the values that got you where you are today. Be flexible; we don’t want cookie-cutter organizations. Things change, and so will the people. What matters is that the values stay the same.

4. Prioritize diversity

Diversity comes in all forms. The most innovative team I’ve worked with included people from all walks of life, with different experiences and thoughts to help you build the world in a new way. Don’t just give people a seat at the table, even if that table is a stand-up. Give them a voice too.

5. Down with bureaucracy

Get your team involved in day-to-day decisions and break down bureaucratic barriers. You’ll be surprised how much people care about the impact they make. Creativity shines, but only when you give it a chance. Don’t create an environment where free-thinking is discouraged or crushed by the weight of processes.

6. Nurture your edge

Many of us in the tech industry are in the line of solving problems. And you can’t solve what you don’t know exists. So, share with your team. Pull ideas out of what’s happening in the market. What real-world problems have you solved?

7. Share the wins and losses

Share the wins, losses, and everything in between. We like to motivate, but we live in the real world. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it rains. And sometimes it pours. Learning to see opportunities in your failures instead of moping about them keeps you creative.

Embracing change

Some of the best ideas come from the most challenging situations. I’ve found that the ideas we have come up with under pressure become the seeds of innovation. As the age-old saying goes, “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing new ever grows there.”