We’ve worked with hundreds of leaders worldwide. We specialize in helping leaders navigate their startup world. A fast-moving, high-change environment with ambiguity and high pressure requires leaders to know what works. And what doesn’t.
Our methodology focuses on transforming managers into leaders that can bring the best out in themselves and their teams. Leaders who build unstoppable teams that scale. Ultimately creating a culture of high performance. This is what we call our Unicorn Leaders and Unicorn Teams model.
The classic Startup Leadership Challenge is a story of two tales. Either one of fast-paced growth, where we hire really quickly and pass out manager roles to unsuspecting victims. Or one with slower-paced growth and deliberate investment in leadership scalability. Both paths usually lead us to want to train our managers to these high-performing superstars who can help scale the business. But that’s a much harder challenge than it sounds.
From early teams of just co-founders hiring their first few employees. Scaling to their first 100 employees and now working with globally distributed teams of thousands. Personally, as start-up founders, we ran nearly every part of a start-up (sales, product development, engineering, design, marketing, community, and customer success).
And well, I can tell you the number of times we’ve failed at properly scaling leadership.
But it doesn’t have to be that hard. So we spent time doing the research to add to the personal experiences.
We had to start with a simple belief that leaders are made. They are taught, coached, and moulded. Our second belief is that leadership is ultimately about creating change. A movement from where we currently are to a better more prosperous future.
And arrived at the simple yet overlooked fact that the best leaders build the best teams. A Leader’s primary job is thus to develop the necessary personal skills to attract, build and coach a team that outgrows them.
In today's fast-paced business environment, teamwork remains one of the most sustainable competitive advantages across industries. It's hard to measure because it impacts an organization's outcome in a comprehensive and invasive way. Teamwork is also hard to achieve; it can't be bought or acquired by hiring a smart business school graduate. It requires courage, discipline, and a certain level of emotional energy.
What if you already have a lever in your organization that you could pull to change 70% of the variance in team engagement? Would you pull it? Then you need to shift your focus to your managers. Your managers control 70% of employee engagement, which is one’s affinity to your organization. It’s not the C-suite team busy setting the course for vision or the impact you will have on the world, but the managers. Your managers have the power to significantly increase employee development, retention, engagement, quality of work, innovation and organizational growth.
Managers have the single biggest impact on employee experience and performance. A manager that focuses their leadership on building the best possible team will achieve an extraordinary impact.
Using Unicorn Labs’ Six Levels of High-Performing Teams, we offer a progressive model that supports leaders in creating and leading high-performing teams. Based on a dependency structure, the model’s learning is reinforced through each level, helping solidify the impact for leaders and their teams.
The six levels framework works to sustain and support high-performing teams. It allows leaders to diagnose problems proactively at the root instead of reactively addressing symptoms when they arise. Their deep understanding of the framework will help signal at which level issues lie and how to address them efficiently.
Ultimately, the model embodies a “leadership is a verb, not a noun” approach, where everyone continuously has something to work and strive for on their leadership journey, honing in on mastery over the process rather than a mastery of leadership.
Our core Unicorn Leadership philosophy is distilled into the Six Levels of High-Performing Teams, where each level builds on the previous one. This avoids siloed solutions and gaps with a holistic, collaborative, reinforced approach.
This model underpins the learning journey of all our Unicorn Leaders.
Hear what they have to say:
We've ditched the traditional brainstorming approach. Instead, we use Design Thinking principles to unlock the wealth of knowledge already within you. Say goodbye to common traps like anchoring, personality differences, and power dynamics. We're all about creating a safe, open space for your ideas to shine.
Did you know that emotions pave the way for profound learning experiences? Through the art of storytelling, we connect with you on an emotional level, building empathy and trust. Prepare for engaging discussions and our signature Socratic learning method that sparks intellectual curiosity.
Our goal is to ensure you retain and apply what you've learned effectively. We achieve this by co-curating mini models and frameworks that fit seamlessly into your existing knowledge base. With themed overarching topics, thought-provoking activities and an overarching learning model, you'll see the bigger picture and connect the dots.
We also always want to help you best understand your baseline to know where to set your sails. We use various measurement tools (e.g., surveys, and assessments) to help you visualize data and have tangible metrics to hone in on and improve. Learn about yourself, your team mates, and organization as you learn the latest best practices in leadership and management and start understanding how to identify symptoms yourself and how to track it back to the root cause of your challenges.
Our core six-level teaching philosophy is present in all our programming and offerings. Think of them as steps that you build on to help bring out the best in your team and culture.
Leaders must first begin with establishing a sense of Psychological Safety. At the core of any exceptional team and thriving culture lies psychological safety. It serves as the vital foundation upon which greatness is built.
Psychological safety is the belief that team members can take risks and be vulnerable without fear of judgment or negative consequences. Individuals feel secure when there is a high level of psychological safety, enabling them to voice their opinions, make mistakes, and embrace diverse perspectives.
Trust is the key ingredient that fosters psychological safety among team members. It opens the door to authentic connections and paves the way for the remarkable collaboration that defines high-performance teams.
Once psychological safety is established, trust alone is not enough. The focus grows into encouraging an environment of empowerment to help unleash a self-sufficient team.
Empowerment requires clarity to help all team members understand how to make efficient and informed decisions in their roles and as a team.
Empowered team members become proactive decision-makers at all levels of your organization, ensuring effective decision-making and creating a culture of accountability. Empowerment prevents keeping managers as bottlenecks on their teams and keeps an action-oriented approach to their daily work.
An empowered and psychologically safe team is a more confident team. This means they should be beginning to voice more of their ideas and opinions. With that new level of free-flowing communication often comes some naturally occurring conflict.
Embracing healthy conflict is essential to creating an exceptional team culture. Counterintuitive as it may seem, conflict is the catalyst for growth and innovation.
When teams fearlessly challenge and question each other's ideas, genuine communication thrives. Well-managed conflict generates productive feedback and vibrant discussions, propelling collaboration and driving superior performance.
Effective communication, fueled by healthy conflict, fuels innovation and unleashes the full creative potential of your team. However, it is crucial to remember that conflict can only be embraced within the framework of psychological safety, where trust enables open debates and productive exchanges.
This is why continuously working on those foundational levels of high-performing teams is critical to the success of all subsequent levels.
They all feed on each other and help build a stronger and more resilient team.
As teams progress through the previous levels, they become more agile and naturally develop a sense of personal accountability over their roles. This is a sign of leadership becoming fluid and a shared responsibility. Every team member has the potential to step up and lead within their domain of expertise. It also makes individual managers more efficient at continuing to coach and develop high-performing teams instead of constantly being stuck putting out fires.
Each member understands their unique role and contributes to the team's success. They trust one another to make decisions aligned with their expertise, enabling the team to tackle challenges collectively.
This collaborative decision-making process also fosters a growth mindset, where team members view challenges as opportunities for improvement. With a mindset of continuous growth, they embrace coaching, adaptability, and constant learning.
Your team is becoming more adept at agility, innovation, and troubleshooting.
Once we’ve established a leadership culture within your team, it's time to delve into a critical question: Does your team feel a deep sense of purpose in their work?
A high-performing team is an engaged and committed team. And external motivators can only take them so far. Our model goes deeper by teaching and practicing the fundamentals that create a greater sense of purpose.
Ensuring that your team members understand how their actions contribute to the business's overall mission is vital. They need to feel that their work has a meaningful impact on the startup, transcending the feeling of being just a cog in a machine. Understanding the significance of their work instills a sense of pride and fulfillment, enabling them to produce their best work with greater efficiency.
By emphasizing the importance of their individual roles, you empower team members and show them the value they bring to the team when employees feel valued, their productivity soars, resulting in high-quality output.
Mission-driven startups that prioritize employee satisfaction and engagement can cultivate a vibrant and high-performing organizational culture.
The final stride in cultivating a winning culture is embracing an all-encompassing vision that unifies the entire team.
When your startup team shares a clear vision of the future they are building, it becomes a rallying point for collective efforts. A common goal unites team members and ignites their drive to work together productively for the betterment of the team and the mission at hand.
With these six transformative steps, you can propel your team from good to great. Working on these helps forge an exceptional culture that nurtures psychological safety, empowerment, effective communication, a culture of leadership, a sense of purpose, and an unwavering vision.
Embark on this journey with us and witness the birth of your Unicorn Team—a team that exceeds expectations achieves remarkable success, and leaves an indelible mark on your industry.
High-performing teams are ultimately filled with contradictions and paradoxes. The pendulum swings from extreme connection and psychological safety, allowing difficult conversations, feedback and debate. Building a culture of belonging, protecting the team from rotten apples, and ensuring your best players thrive. The contradiction of personalizing your leadership style to each person yet establishing group norms, values and operating principles. Clarifying vision and strategic plans, yet being nimble and agile in your empowerment structures to allow for deviation and innovation. You’re building a high-performing company, not a country club.
Leadership is an art that we will help you master through coaching, training, and example.