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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Lerner

How to move your startup team faster

“It’s just a simple change! Why is it taking so long?”

As leaders, we push to go faster, because we have competitors and a limited runway. It’s literally a race! But I realised, the hard way, pushing isn’t the right strategy.

An uncomfortable moment for me

After spending the majority of my early career working for others, I decided to start my own business. A year into being a CEO for myself, I still didn’t feel like I was moving fast enough or being bold enough. I had a talented little team in place, but I was the blocker on most things, so I had only myself to blame.

It took a while but I realised that when good people don’t move forward, it’s because they're blocked. I’ve seen 2 types of blockers:

  1. Exogenous Blockers: If you ask your team why things take so long, they usually cite exogenous factors (a fancy way of saying they blame others), e.g., a lack of resources or complicated tech. Those are legitimate, but that’s seldom the real issue.

  2. Endogenous Blockers: Eventually, I realised I was actually held back by emotional blockers in my own head. And once I recognised those anxieties, I was able to move past them.

My mindset is slowing me down

I spent my career blaming others, looking and pushing outwards. But in a rare lucid moment of introspection, I was finally able to see the 3 blockers holding me back:

  1. Overcomplication: When I’d first get a project idea, I’d dream up an amazing thing. Very exciting. But it was too grand, I wouldn’t actually see it through. Often, a quick-and-dirty solution would have sufficed! Nowadays, I try to be honest with myself and look for a simpler way to achieve the goal or run the experiment.

  2. Hard Decisions: I don’t like saying “no.” (Not to people, not to ideas). And I realised that many important projects were stuck waiting for me to make a hard decision. Now, I look over my Trello list each week and try to identify key decisions that are blocking me, and make them. It’s no fun, but it’s helpful.

  3. Fear of rejection: I’m not afraid to make mistakes, but I do fear rejection, and that keeps me from putting myself out there and asking for things. (It’s hard to build a business if you don’t ask for things.) So, now I’ve resolved to put myself out there more, because the actual pain of rejection is never as bad as I imagined.

So, those are the issues that slow me down. I’ve written them down on a piece of paper, and I look at them whenever things aren’t moving forward.

How do you unblock your team?

Remove exogenous blockers: As the leader, that’s on you to clarify priorities and make resources available for your team to do the most important work — when that’s truly the issue. (That’s how I spent my last years at PayPal, removing blockers for my team.)

Remove endogenous blockers: It’s natural to push your team to go faster and work harder. But when you’re doing so, you’re actually pushing them up against a wall, and the wall is made up of their own stories and fears. Instead of pushing, why not take down that wall? Listen and understand the emotional risks people are unwilling to take, and make it safe for them to take those risks.

I’ll bet they already want to go faster, but they’re probably afraid of making mistakes. The truth is, going slow and avoiding risks is the mistake in itself.

But remember, it doesn’t matter how fast you go if you’re traveling in the wrong direction (or five directions at once). Focus on your North Star Metric and prioritise the high-impact work.

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