How a collaborative mindset can help your startup succeed

Companies often look to improve collaboration in order to help streamline their processes and encourage strategic pace in their organisation. Collaboration is seen as an important element in helping organisations approach their customers and industry from a more judicious standpoint, rather than striving to get ahead by mere speed.

Effective collaboration is much more than just ‘working together’ – it’s a strategic choice too. But what does this mean for start-up businesses? We asked William Buist, founder of xTEN to answer some common questions business start-ups ask about collaboration;

1. Start-ups, by their nature, are often just one person – so how important do you think collaboration is for the start-up? It sounds rather grand for a very small fledgling business.

When Entrepreneurs start and when they grow their business, the journey is often personal. Entrepreneurs choose fields that they’re passionate about. They long to succeed not only for their own financial security, but to prove something to themselves and to leave a legacy.

In many ways, their business is their baby. There may be times they are tempted to fall into the “if you want it done right, do it yourself’ mode of thinking. But going it alone isn’t the most efficient way to get things done, and in the long run it isn’t even the most satisfying.

Probably they’ll be working on getting the message out to the market, building websites, or working with a new designer to get logo’s and graphics, setting up a CRM System, calling friends, thinking about who else to contact.

In reality, businesses simply don’t exist in isolation; they are a part of a wider ecosystem that’s made up of their market, the suppliers they use and the customers they serve. Even the smallest businesses have a wider team that work on elements of making the business what it is. So, working with others is essential and if that’s the case it makes sense to make those relationships and agreements collaborative rather than just being transactional.

Far from being grand, the successful start-up starts the journey to collaboration the moment it opens it’s doors which leads us on to…

2. Often collaboration can involve a lot of time talking, agreeing, finding common ground – is there a way to speed this process up and get to something useful much quicker?

Collaboration is a journey and it’s one that starts to give value from the point you start the journey. You don’t need to have worked out everything about collaborating before you do any work, indeed it’s unlikely that you could ever collaborate without working together first.


Approaching a collaborative business relationship begins with awareness, the consciousness of the need to involve others. All business needs to be interactive. It needs a clearly designed mission as well as a path to bring that mission to fruition.

By working with others, you solidify your own ideas and are able to build on them and improve them. By sharing insights everyone gains a sense of perspective that you would not have been reached on your own. This starts in a moment, and adds value immediately.


Some of the most productive forms of collaboration come from working with people from other businesses as well as colleagues from your own business.

Consumers need more than one product or service. What you offer can not serve all their needs because you only do what you do. It’s wider than that though, by talking things through with others as part of the day to day development of the business everyone learns, and starts to align behind what might initially be quite a vague common purpose.

Conversation makes it clearer, collective intellect makes it sharper, practical implementation makes it real.


It is likely, however, that you have some insight on some of what works. Other people and businesses with similar goals (that align with their own products and services) have different ideas that are just as effective. Since your customer or client bases overlap, sharing notes on your strategies will increase the potential of both people or companies.

Being the best at what you do only gets better when you help others achieve the same goal. Working with suppliers, competitors, partners and employees (as you hire them) cooperatively helps everyone, and the alignment continues to improve.

In our experience, competitors who co-operate where their target markets are different, (and so competition is less of a ‘threat’) often find that they can do more business together than they can do apart. The value of co-operation is often in the unlocked synergy.


Only after some considerable time conversing and cooperating does the true alignment take place. Sharing ideas can also have a positive financial impact, as you pool resources, share contacts and implement ideas that you would not have thought of on your own.

Since there is overlap in your existing customer and client base, it is likely that much of your marketing research and strategies will be appropriate for both your organisation and that of your collaborators. When you come to this realisation, it becomes obvious that there is a good deal of research that does not need to be done twice.

Internally collaborative businesses also don’t have high costs of co-ordination, because the aims are clear. Everyone knows what is intended and knows the culture of getting there, so they can be empowered and accountable. Everyone will make the right decision in any set of circumstances and so day to day task management just isn’t required.

3. When you are a small team people tend to communicate reasonably well but as the team grows this can be more challenging – so how do you ensure you keep communicating as your business grows?

Clarity matters far more than anything else. As businesses tend to grow they tend to get more complicated, fight the temptation to let that happen, simplify everything from time to time, design ‘review by’ dates into your processes and don’t let any review pass without at least one simplification.

Simple things are easy to understand, they have clarity, clarity matters because it’s infectious. Google won the search engine wars because it was as simple as you could be.

Every time something is misunderstood or a wrong turn taken, examine the understanding of the goal and the mission and check that it’s aligned and clear. If it’s not aligned, don’t correct it until you truly understand the misalignment, who knows, it could be you that’s slipped out of alignment!

4. What are the key traits of being a collaborative leader?

Other than an ability to listen well, a desire to listen well and a determination to listen well, it’s important to facilitate communication (as opposed to broadcasting it), clarifying the opaque and simplifying the complicated.

About the author

This Q&A was conducted with William Buist, a Business Strategist, Speaker, and founder of the exclusive xTEN Club – an annual programme that helps accelerate growth, harness opportunity, build your business and develop ideas. William is also author of two books: ‘At your fingertips’ and ‘The little book of mentoring’. See:

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