Building a Flexible Culture for a SF Startup


Building a Flexible Startup Culture

Uniting a startup team around process prototyping


Guide a stealth-mode San Francisco startup toward a stronger design culture, supported by the CEO.


The ten person startup team is an even split of local and remote workers, many of whom are contractors. The team felt increasing pressure to take on more work as they continued to miss deadlines. The CEO wanted to improve work flow and morale before scaling the business further.


Organizational Designer


1 Additional Organizational Designer


I improved communication in a distributed team, revived positivity, and empowered the company to see organizational issues as design opportunities.



1 – Uncovering team needs

To understand the state of the team, I facilitated their first-ever retrospectives, daily stand-ups, and feedback sessions. I identified team highs, lows, and questions to create an action plan for next steps.


Results of initial feedback session

Results of the first-ever retrospective group by theme


2 – Quantitatively measuring changes

In our feedback sessions, the team identified the Monday all-hands meeting as their lowest performing meeting. To better understand the meeting's dynamics, we audited how long each person spoke and the time spent covering different topics. After auditing these meetings, we noted low participation from remote workers. This prompted a prototyping session to establish remote meeting guidelines. Some of these improvements included microphone etiquette, backlighting guidelines, and directed questions.


Time spent talking by each team member 5/13/15

Audit of topics discussed during all-hands 5/13/15

Time spent talking by each team member 5/26/15

Audit of topics discussed during all-hands 5/26/15


3 – Understanding team perception

To better understand communication and agenda changes, I asked the team to fill out a journey map of the all-hands meeting. We found ending with kudos was very positive and that the lowest moments were during conversations that were not inclusive of the entire team. These findings prompted positivity experiments, including a Slack channel dedicated to small celebrations


Self-reported highs and lows over time during an updated all-hands meeting


4 – Planning for ongoing prototyping

As the 10-week project came to an end, we began transferring responsibility and ownership to the new VP of Engineering. We collected all of the team's ideas and feedback into a format that helped him prioritize and schedule ongoing projects


Organizing feedback and ideas by theme and priority with the VP of Engineering


Impact – Improved Communication and Morale

connected despite the distance

We created the first all-team, collaborative meetings. Rapport has improved after creating remote meeting guidelines.

revived positivity

We created the first outlets for team positivity on Slack in the #celebration channel.

sense of ownership

The team has continued to make improvements to process, and individuals are sharing progress each week.


"I now feel the team is aware of what I'm doing. Before, I felt like no one knew, but now everyone does! I don't have to worry about it anymore."
—Remote Software Engineer, Chile