Stress is an unavoidable part of a startup. It affects team members in different ways and it’s constant in a founders life.

There is a long list of situations, decisions and expectations that create stressful conditions. Add fatigue and a perfect storm of stress can easily besiege even the most accomplished entrepreneur.

It would be easy to lump startup stress management with the founding team but I think it is, and always will be, a team effort.

It’s one thing to set the cultural tone, it’s quite another to expect an evolving culture to have built-in ways to manage stress.

And let’s be honest, unless you’ve worked together with someone while you’ve had your feet held to their fire, you won’t know how others will respond to stress.

Founders are in the business of hiring the best people they can afford. This hopefully means they are hiring leaders. People who fit the mound of ‘best in class’. They know stress and bring an array of tactics to work through difficult times. Harnessing this experience is essential.

But how many founders do?

Time usually isn’t devoted to conversations about how people manage stress. And when high-pressure situations come knocking, we’ve been taught to look to the leader at the top for guidance. This can work, but it’s rarely full-proof.

Here are three ways to make managing startup stress a team effort. To solve problems more effectively, provide support to the CEO (who at the end of the day is only human) and unleash the stress management experience of leaders your company has worked so hard to hire.

1. Acknowledge the fear-tension-pain cycle

I first learned of this cycle in a prenatal class. The midwife shared details about how fear, tension and pain are not only interrelated but a virtuous cycle. This simple principle, where greater fear leads to more tension and increased pain, was coined in the mid-1900s and usually affects first-time expectant mothers.

And although stress in startups and childbirth is very different, knowledge is the circuit-breaker in both cases.

The more a mother (and partner) know about pregnancy and childbirth, the more they are able to manage their fear, tension and pain.

Startup teams see the fear-tension-pain cycle play out most days. Acknowledge it and starting conversations that show a willingness to introduce the right circuit-breaking knowledge goes a long way to removing fear and breaking the cycle.

2. Share problems across the business

I’ve written before about the attitude founders often bring to their startup.

The ‘it’s my venture and my issue so I’ll work it out’ mindset is a waste of time.

If you’re thinking this or worried about not having all the answers, you’re thinking about this the wrong way.

The answer to problem-solving in most cases is not to reduce the number of brains working on the problem.

If you look to military special forces around the world you’ll find a surprising fact that escapes most people due to their perception that the military is all about command and control.

Regardless of the size of a team, the leader always knows they are leading other leaders. For this reason, and after establishing the situation and context, they ask their team members for input before making a decision on how to proceed.

This team effort almost always yields a better solution.

And the more prepared you can make your team to engage in a ‘problem-led’ discussion, especially if you ask for their input at short notice, the better it can be for the situation.

I use an approach adapted from a process designed by my friend Adam Mather to give people the best chance of helping me solve issues.

Before bringing people into a conversation, I make sure that:

  1. Context is clear – what the situation is, how it evolved and the fact that I’m not sure how to approach it.
  2. I can articulate the problem – be specific about the nub of the issue
  3. Homework is done – come to the conversation with well-researched options in the mind but do not offer them so as to avoid biasing your team’s input. Instead, have them up your sleeve to respond to probing questions or suggestions from team members

3. Over-communicate

This doesn’t mean sending more slack messages or email. Over-communicate in this context means finding ways to better express intent.

Think about the emails you write and the slack messages you send. Although emojis might help, email and slack messages can’t express the stress, angst or happiness that sits behind what’s written. In fact, they do a good job of removing intent from communications altogether.

The best way to reinstall intent, particularly if your team is not colocated is to communicate, as often as possible, using video.

Do not underestimate the importance of seeing the face and the cues of your teammates. If you use Slack, use their video calling feature. If you don’t (and why don’t you again?) look at Zoom.

One last thing…

The most underrated circuit-breakers in managing stress are humour and optimism. They are infectious and cost nothing. Using them in combination with sharing problems across the business and over-communicating has helped reduce stress in my businesses and I hope it helps you too.