How to Sustain Your Team’s Motivation While Building a High-Growth Digital Startup

How to Sustain Your Team’s Motivation While Building a High-Growth Digital Startup


Turo Numminen, one of the many growth-minded SHIFT Business Festival 2021 speakers and an investor, unlocks the tips and tricks of one of the most important factors in any startup, the team motivation. His background is in finance and management accounting, with a strong focus and experience on small businesses and startups.


Sustainable motivation is built from inside

Adaptability, change and motivation are familiar buzzwords in business circles. Add expectations, values, and uncertainty to the mix, and you have a typical startup environment. It’s certainly not an easy task to find the right people who pull seamlessly together in this type of environment – let alone keep every team member motivated when work gets intense.

Many things impact the sustainability and resilience of the team. I’ll cover ideas of how to build a team that can handle the highs and lows of a growth digital startup environment.


Different types of motivation drive people forward

Engaging with startups usually requires high tolerance of risk and uncertainty, as well as a willingness to learn fast. If you have high personal motivation and are ready to accept risks, startups can provide a good track to pursue your dreams.

Motivational drivers are personal, and according to the Theory of Needs by David McClelland, there are three basic drivers: a need for achievement, a need for affiliation, and a need for power. People have usually one dominant need they wish to cater to, and this is called the main motivational driver. Understanding the needs of people helps in building a sustainable startup team composition.


Need for achievement: support achievers with concrete and measurable goals

Need for Achievement refers to an opportunity to get something done, and people who are motivated by achievement are notably keen on winning. Having the motivation to work hard to reach the results have paramount importance in the success of the company. Building a roadmap with clear and measurable goals allows people with a high need for achievement to track their progress and succeed in the longer term.

Your startup team needs high achievers who get s##t done and are willing to go the extra mile to make this happen – sometimes even at the expense of others. It may sound tempting to fill the team with high achievers to keep things moving, but keep in mind that everyone needs support. Even the best achievers need help and guidance – usually from the people who don’t enjoy being in the limelight, but who make sure the machine works.

Motivational drivers for achievers are usually concrete and measurable actions. You need to keep achievers happy by creating a motivational set that can be easily measured and verified (such as OKRs)


Need for affiliation: appreciate out loud

This describes a person’s need to feel a sense of involvement and “belonging” within a group. In startups, work teams are usually closely connected. Personal and work-lives are quite often mixed more than in traditional work. People with a strong need for affiliation are usually good team players because they are looking for mutual benefits instead of personal wins.

People motivated by affiliation are driven by the success of the team instead of having their name on the top of the leaderboard. Having a clear role and receiving appreciation from their peers is usually more fulfilling for this type of person. When they are part of a team, remember to set them shared targets and goals.


Need for power: let power-seekers participate in decision-making

If an individual’s predominant motive is power, they are motivated to influence others and take control. Many leaders have a dominant need for power since this gives them the ability to genuinely enjoy the results achieved by others and assess the situation from a larger perspective. Strong affiliation to power also helps people to make hard decisions that are sometimes necessary.



A successful company needs person(s) with an active leadership role.



How to impact people’s motivational drivers

Today, people are looking for more than just work: they are looking for making a personal impact on society, and startups are good vehicles for this. If the mission of a startup is aligned with the person’s impact motivational driver, then the relationship is usually more than just work, it’s a passion.

For growth startups, it’s immensely valuable to clarify company values and utilize them when looking for the best talents. Simultaneously values become stronger as more people are joining because of them. A shared value base is a strong driver and a valuable set of decision principles for a startup team.


Sustainable growth depends on the team

Being able to create sustainable, long-term growth depends heavily on the team and its ability to execute, pivot, grind and take the extra step to get the job done. Timing, idea, environment, mentors, etc. have a large role in how far or how big the idea will grow, but if you have a dedicated, hardworking team, they will usually find a way around, over or through any obstacles they are having.


Money does not fix all problems

Startups talk a lot about money – or usually the lack of it. Money enables things, allows to hire more resources and run experiments. In established companies, the money usually comes from clients and in startups, it comes from investors and banks – who expect to get it back. In short, the early-stage money buys you time to find a profitable business model.

One challenge is that money can’t buy profitable customers. If your business model or product offering isn’t financially sound, no amount of money will miraculously make it so. Whatever the challenge, you and your team will have to solve it on your own in 99% of the cases.


One challenge is that money can’t buy profitable customers.


You can think of a camel caravan crossing the desert. They’ll need to have enough water to get to the next well to fill up the containers. You can’t carry too much, since it slows you down, so balancing the need is essential. The same applies to startup funding. Don’t try to raise too much money in the beginning – just think how much you need at the minimum and aim for that.

While people say that money is not important, it is of utmost importance to treat everyone financially fairly. By building a motivationally well-aligned team of people, with fair financial rewards system in place, you should be able to confront challenges and emerge as a winner in the long term.


Turo Numminen, Co-Founder, Sofokus Ventures


SHIFT Business Festival
25-26 August 2021