Challenges With Leading the R&D Team in a Technology Startup

Henry Ford once said, "I am not the smartest, but I surround myself with competent people."

When it comes to managing an R&D team, you have to keep this mentality in mind and think of ways to make the whole worth more than the pieces. We all come from different backgrounds, have different perspectives, and have different career goals - which means we all have something unique to bring to the table.

Running an R&D team is always challenging, no matter how experienced you are. As a young manager, you face one group of challenges and as a more experienced manager you face another. Here are some of the challenges that I have faced and some tips that I have learned while running an R&D team.

Finding Your Team

As a team leader, there are certain character traits that you look for in your team and certain qualities that are required in order to achieve success. Especially in a startup environment, the following is extremely important:

Character

Running a startup is like running a marathon. Ultimately, that’s the type of character and dedication that’s required to have a successful startup team. You have to make sure that your team will be there for you in the good and the bad times and that they won’t shy away from a challenge.

Loyalty

It's hard to find loyal team members, particularly when you can’t be especially competitive when it comes to compensation (we are a startup after all). In these cases, you have to earn your employees’ loyalty by keeping them motivated, interested, inspired and dedicated. So what specifically can someone do to keep their team members loyal, in the age of Millennials?

Maintaining Team Loyalty and Participation

Protect From Fatigue and Burn-Out

Especially in the startup environment, it is easy for team members to overstretch themselves and burn out. It’s important to make sure that burn-out (team and personal fatigue) is as low as possible to maintain a healthy team environment.

Work-Life Balance

In the same vein, it’s important to develop a company strategy that allows and encourages the team to dedicate time to their personal lives. This could include:

  • Safeguards to maintain reasonable hours and workload
  • Events like company happy hours or team outings. At Xplenty, we make sure that we mix our worldwide branches at least once a month so that everyone - sales, marketing, customer success, etc. - gets to know each other and build relationships.
  • Celebrating personal milestones and achievements in the office
  • Encouraging team members to set personal goals and following up with them periodically. One of our team members, for example, is an avid windsurfer. We give him the freedom to go out and surf whenever he wants and this improves his morale every time.

Professional Challenge

Give your team an opportunity to work with cutting-edge technologies, express their creativity and have professional freedom. Team members want to have an impact. Consider how research and side projects can increase self-awareness and drive growth and motivation.

Another tip? Focus on productivity rather than time-based metrics and give your team members mental, physical and professional freedom. Here at Xplenty, for example, we give our team members the freedom to choose their working style i.e. remote, in office, etc. This kind of freedom is the key to having great team spirit - and with great spirit, comes great success.

Productivity

"Work Smarter, Not Harder" said Kobe Briant and Usain Bolt. Make sure that your team members have the training and the tools to work as smartly and efficiently as possible.

As a data delivery company, we truly believe that automation is key to success.

  • We use Xplenty to automate our data delivery for our entire company - be it marketing, support, sales or finance.
  • We leverage GitHub and Codeship for continuous integration and delivery in order to automate our build and deployment processes.
  • Similarly, we use Slack and chat bots to automate our operations and make the entire company communicate better and faster in order to increase productivity as a whole.
  • We use Docker to make development way easier, faster and portable.
  • We have very high percentage of fully automated quality assurance coverage of our code base.
  • And we leverage "the cloud" to work smarter.

It’s about innovation and making sure that you’re giving your team the best tools out there.

Importance of Methodologies

Importance of Methodologies

Tools

Collaboration, communication and transparency are extremely important across the entire company. Along with the tool mentioned above, we also use Slack, Trello, Google Docs, GitHub and WhatsApp to keep the entire team informed on all other departments.

Teamwork and Dedication

Figure out how you can have your team put their egos aside and become a great, goal-oriented team players. A common objective will make your team successful.

Mission and Vision

In the long run, the “why” is more important than the “how.” Especially on an R&D team, your team members are always going to ask you for the “why” when they are asked to perform the “how.” If you don’t have a well-defined goal, the team will usually fail to deliver.

If you want your team members to stay motivated, then, you have to use vision as an inducement rather than money. If they feel like they are working for a purpose or mission - both personal and company-wide - they will be much more inclined to track their milestones and maintain their motivation.

With the tight budget, competition and stress that inevitably come with running a startup business, it can be difficult to follow the above suggestions and maintain a positive work environment. That said, if you don’t determine your company’s culture and values from the start, they will be determined for you - and, once they take hold, bad habits are difficult to break.

It’s worth the effort to get it right from the start so that your team - and your company - continue to succeed in the long-term.