Successful Startup Teamwork Relies on Three Communication Strategies

IUSE Workshop Series; inclusive entrepreneurship education teamwork; photo of students working together, against abstract background pattern

Through the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) workshop series, funded by the National Science Foundation, social scientists collaborated with entrepreneurship educators to bridge the gap between their areas of expertise. The resulting white papers provide research-based insights and classroom techniques for teaching inclusive entrepreneurship. This ongoing series currently covers Teamwork, Motivation, Critical Thinking, and Problem-Solving. Stay tuned for more topics!

“Because entrepreneurship requires novel, divergent, and non-normative thoughts, it is essential that team members feel comfortable and safe sharing these thoughts.”—Roni Reiter-Palmon and Derek Abrams

Three Communication Elements of Startup Teamwork

For startup teams striving to succeed—and for educators teaching the hands-on skills of entrepreneurship—understanding what makes a team function well together is essential. Fortunately, Roni Reiter-Palmon and Derek Abrams have partnered to explore the models and frameworks that describe how teamwork works.

Successful teamwork, Reiter-Palmon and Abrams explain, is built on three essential elements: communication and information sharing, trust and psychological safety, and conflict. These elements are highly interrelated and work together to create an environment that sustains collaboration and innovation.

Download the full white paper “Understanding the Science of Teamwork: Implications for Entrepreneurship Education and Practice.”

Roni Reiter-Palmon, professor of Psychology and director of the Industrial/Organizational Graduate Program at the University of Nebraska
Derek Abrams, associate director and associate professor of Practice at the Center for Innovation and Commercialization at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

1. Communication and Information Sharing Provide a Foundation

First of all, team members need to talk to each other. Without open and clear communication, team members won’t be able to share their expertise, ideas, or concerns effectively. In addition, useful communication includes sharing information—facts, interpretations of facts, and ideas about the future—which is the basis for important activities like brainstorming, decision-making, and problem-solving. When team members freely share information from their areas of expertise, it creates a pool of knowledge and insights that makes them more effective together.

Team communication also sets the tone for how conflicts are handled. Open and respectful communication can turn conflicts into opportunities for growth and learning.

2. Trust and Psychological Safety Hold the Team Together

Teams build trust through communication and information sharing. When team members consistently exchange valuable information and ideas, it fosters trust in one another’s capabilities and good intentions.

Psychological safety relies on trust. Especially in the fast-moving, often high-pressure endeavor of starting a company, team members need to trust that their ideas won’t be met with ridicule or criticism. Startups function best when team members feel safe to take risks and be themselves. Together, trust and psychological safety create a culture in which team members can openly communicate, knowing that their contributions are valued and respected.

3. Conflict Can Be a Catalyst for Innovation

Conflict is not only unavoidable; it’s a natural part of any team’s journey, and when handled well can be an essential part of the process of innovation. When conflict arises, effective communication and trust play pivotal roles in how it’s resolved.

Trust allows team members to approach conflicts knowing that everyone has the best intentions. This makes it much easier to address difficult issues constructively. Open communication is essential during conflicts, so team members feel comfortable sharing their concerns and perspectives without fear of backlash. Psychological safety ensures that team members don’t hold back during conflicts, enabling them to express their ideas, even when they challenge the status quo.

Conflict can be highly productive for a startup team. Conflict about how best to complete a task or meet a goal can result in innovative thinking and exciting new solutions, when a team communicates openly, trusts one another, and each feels psychologically safe. Interpersonal conflict is often unproductive, but is far easier to resolve with these teamwork and communication skills in place.

The Challenges of Teaching Teamwork

Of course, all of these elements are easier described than done. But they truly are required. As Reiter-Palmon and Abrams state: “Because entrepreneurship requires novel, divergent, and non-normative thoughts, it is essential that team members feel comfortable and safe sharing these thoughts.”

The good news is that these skills are learnable. Inside and outside the classroom, teams can practice these skills in order to work better together.

In their white paper, Reiter-Palmon and Abrams detail not only these teamwork strategies, but implementation ideas for the classroom and tools for assessing how successful teams are at communication and information exchange, trust, psychological safety, and resolving team conflict, all based on solid social science research.

Dig into the research and get more insights and classroom tools. Download the white paper “Understanding the Science of Teamwork: Implications for Entrepreneurship Education and Practice.”

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under IUSE Grant No. 2220329.

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