New research from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin suggests that a sense of collective ownership is crucial to a startup team’s success. The energy and enthusiasm that come from working toward a shared vision can be powerful.

This all starts with the leader, who serves as the catalyst for the team. He or she should empower everyone else.

“To get others to feel like, ‘This startup is really ours,’ the team needs to have their fingerprints on the idea,” said McCombs Assistant Professor of Management Stephen Gray. “Not just building it up as it currently stands, but actually shaping, maneuvering and influencing some aspects of the idea.” Such requests for team input on the startup idea are labeled “help-seeking” behaviors.

But being too open to team input has its drawbacks, the researchers suggest. It can invite disagreements about what direction to take. To combat this, entrepreneurs must set boundaries around soliciting feedback on those parts of the idea they want to keep unchanged. The researchers call these “territorial-marking” behaviors, and they are beneficial for startups.

Most successful startups have leaders who both seek input and set boundaries with their team members, the researchers found.

“Team members respond positively to a leader who sets clear boundaries,” Gray said. Furthermore, leaders who had upfront conversations about boundaries minimized conflict.

“The best entrepreneurs can strike balance,” Gray said. “It’s somebody who’s a little bit assertive and directive but not overly so, and somebody who’s a bit collaborative but not overly so. That’s really the blend that you’re trying to find as an entrepreneur.”


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