How standards, values, and culture deliver start-up growth

The life sciences industry is fast-paced. When CEOs believe they have groundbreaking technology to get to patients, it’s easy to think ‘I’ll deal with culture later.’ We’re here to show you why that is a misguided approach. 

The harsh truth is that 90% of start-ups fail, and it’s not usually because of the science. It’s commonly a leadership or culture issue that brings them down. 

This is why values and standards matter. You must be intentional from the start about the type of culture you want to develop – one that supports your organization to deliver on its promise.

The difference between values and standards

It’s important to understand the difference between values and standards. Here is how we at One TEAM categorize them:

  • Values define why you do what you do and what you believe in. They are who you’d like to be consistently, as you achieve success.
  • Standards define how you will achieve success. They set the bar that must be hit. 

To give an example of this in practice, let’s look at sports. Your standard could be to win every game, but without a value to guide the behavior, you may play unfairly or cheat. Now pair the standard of winning with a value of integrity and it takes on a new life – we will seek to win every game with healthy competition and fair play (both a how and a why).

The dangers of waiting

Building a company culture without values and standards is possible – you might have even done it – but it’s not sustainable. 

Without an intentionally defined cultural structure, a culture will form on its own. Typically, this is either formed from employees’ personalities, or it is molded on the CEO/founder’s personality. And sometimes both happen at the same time.  At best, this makes a team feel somewhat anchorless – it’s not clear how they should show up for work – and at worst it creates a toxic environment.

Let’s explore what might happen if values and standards aren’t defined

  • Person A thinks speed and getting an 80% solution are the best ways to work in a start-up
  • Person B focuses on discovering the most innovative way to do something
  • Person C cares a lot about the details and refuses to share anything until it’s perfect

Now imagine A, B, and C are each department heads. There is a guaranteed conflict brewing. Individually they have each created fine standards to hold themselves to, but they will not work together. 
Spoiler alert: we are a team that did not implement values and standards simultaneously. Keep reading for our case study and lessons learned.

Case study – One TEAM’s story

One TEAM’s CEO, Carlo, is a major advocate of intentional culture. So, one of the very first things we did when the company was set up was get together to define our values. All together in one room, we discussed:

  • Why values are important in an early-stage company
  • Personal values amongst the team
  • Values we’d experienced in previous companies we’d worked for
  • Businesses we found inspirational, and what their values are

Our list was long so we set to work pruning. We agreed that non-negotiables like honesty and integrity didn’t need to be on the list – those are fundamentals that all One TEAM members will be hired with. 

After much (very valuable) discussion, we landed on 5 that felt comprehensive, clear, and fitting.

One TEAM’s values

These guide our behavior and our choices. 

  • Practice self-care: Self-care starts with getting enough sleep, which sets the foundation for building habits for physical and mental wellness. Sleep, exercise, nutrition, and mindfulness are all essential to bringing our best selves to whatever we do.
  • Bring your whole self to work: We engage at work as our full, complete, multifaceted selves. Whatever happens to us outside of our work – whether joyful, stressful, or painful – follows us into work as well. We show up fully and authentically to ensure an open and trusting environment.
  • Be present: We prioritize being present and engaged in the here and now, without being distracted or splitting our focus. We stay in the moment and single-task at whatever we do. This applies to home as much as it does to work.
  • Invest in relationships: Relationships are at the core of everything we do. It is only through spending time developing a relationship that we can experience true collaboration and partnership.
  • Commit to continual learning: We are curious about the world and look for opportunities to learn and improve every day. We’re not afraid to make mistakes because we know that mistakes are an inherent part of learning and growth. We remain open to feedback about how to improve.

Within a year we were experiencing the typical problems that only having values can create; everyone was delivering at different levels, and we had no way of holding ourselves or others accountable. So, we got back together to explore how to strengthen our cultural structure.

One TEAM’s standards 

This is the level of quality we expect from our team. We hold each other accountable to them and ask you to do the same.

  • Be dependable: We show up on time, prepared, and ready to engage. We are reliable partners that help each other achieve our goals. We consistently deliver what was promised on time, and produce complete, accurate, and high-quality work with attention to detail.
  • Communicate effectively: We actively listen and engage with others to best understand their meaning, and we also speak up to deliver clear, direct, concise, and timely communication to others.
  • Ensure holistic sustainability: Our actions and outcomes are sustainable to our people, to our business, to our clients, and to the planet.
  • Deliver pragmatic solutions: Our priority is creating and implementing pragmatic solutions, recognizing that these may at times be large-scale innovative and creative breakthrough changes, and at other times may be making the prudent choice to evolve the current state.
  • Get big sh*t done: We don’t go for the easy button or shy away from a steep learning curve. We push forward to quickly create value and ultimately achieve great things for us and our clients.

Learning is messy

We will not hide our mess from you, because we are proud of what we learned through this imperfect implementation. In hindsight, waiting a year to create standards left space for team members to create their own, and in turn, we experienced an unnecessary set of challenges. Asking individuals to break established habits to ensure full compliance is hard, but we believe in our why more than we are afraid of doing hard things. 

Leaders: You have an opportunity to lead by example. The success of an organization can only be realized with proper implementation and structure. If you are interested in defining or redefining your culture but don’t know where to start, shoot us a message on LinkedIn, or visit our website to schedule a call – we’d love to chat.


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