FounderFuel: Boost the way you work together in a startup team with user-guides


As we all navigate the remote-hybrid-office conundrum and embrace flexibility in our work routine, it’s easy for misunderstandings to occur and frustrations to go unresolved. User-guides can help smooth the communication and collaboration between us and help us all find a new routine to do our best work, remaining healthy and sustainable in the process.

As part of recent startup team training and coaching, we’ve been utilising user-guides – where individuals in a startup team create an introduction to themselves and how they work best. The concept was popularised by The New York Times columnist Adam Bryant in his column “The CEO’s User Manual,” based on his interviews with high-performing CEOs who all create their own.

The user-guide or user-manual is a like a cheat-sheet on how to work with you – giving a quick introduction to what you like, what you don’t like, and how you like to work. As a startup leader, it is an effective way for those in your team to understand you better and appreciate how they can best work with you. This is particularly useful for new joiners to shorten the learning curve of working with you.

It doesn’t just have to be the domain of the leaders in the business either. When introduced effectively, user-guides can be a hit with the whole team. At its simplest, it can act as a low-risk get-to-know-you exercise that builds bonds – since often people will choose to share something about themselves from outside of work. At its core though, this is about creating shared understand and empathy between individuals and even across entire teams.

Greater understanding leads to better communication and in turn better delivery.

In a remote-hybrid world, now spread across locations and different working patterns there has never been a better time to embrace tools that aid communication. In siloes at home, it’s easy for misunderstandings to fester and expectations to be dashed. This can lead to conflict and productivity delays. By contrast, if we start with a greater understanding, and most importantly, a genuine appreciation that we are all individuals with different experiences and preferences – there is an openness to seek to understand others when small misunderstanding happen, which stops them festering into conflicts.

Ultimately this is a team-dynamics tool: User-guides and the conversations that create them, build greater empathy and understanding in a team. In turn, it can support more open honest conversations, fuelling team collaboration and helping to avoid unnecessary conflict.

Building your user-guide

You don’t need any fancy tools to create a user-guide – word or PPT will serve you well (FounderCircle members – see our designed PPT template in the Hub), and some even publish them for sharing with specific people on Notion. The foundations to cover are:

  • A bit about you: This is an opportunity to include a few key facts about you, with a focus on what will be relevant to team-mates.
  • Work environment: Quiet or buzzing; night or day – we all have our preferences
  • Communication: This can cover preferences and support healthy boundaries – include how you manage email and calls, how you prefer to communicate day-to-day and how to communicate in more urgent matters.
  • Feedback: This is an opportunity to share how you prefer to receive feedback and how you process it.
  • Support: An opportunity to share what you struggle with at work and how others can support you.


 Less is more with the topics in your guide – if you’re just doing your own, pick the areas that most resonate with you and will help others most. If you’re choosing topics for a team-template stick to the key topics. It’s important, that anyone completing a user-guide can be as open as they want to be. Some will want to share a little bit about themselves outside of work, or their fun quirks – others will not and if you’re setting questions as a standard for others, they should always have this flexibility.

The basics:
  • Describe yourself and your role in a few words
  • The hours you work and how best to communicate with you
  • The working environment that gets the best from you
  • How you prefer to receive feedback
  • What helps you to work well
  • What you struggle with at work
Added extras:
  • Fun quirks about you
  • What others often misunderstand about you
  • You know I’m stressed when…
  • Known bugs / flaws and how to help

If you know your Myers-Briggs or 16-Personality profile this is a great place to add your 4-letter profile too. In our team training on this, we really focus on understanding the implications of each of the letters as a scale and what that means for self-understanding and understanding others to work together well.

Optional extras for managers:
  • Gold stars: The qualities / behaviours you particularly value in those you work with
  • Pet peeves: Any quirks that drive you nuts
  • Failure: When something goes wrong, how others should approach it and you
  • Conflict: The best way to bring up a subject of disagreement
  • Blind spots: What you’re working on from a personal development perspective and how others can help
  • Decisions: what you value to make a decision and how you prefer to make them

Introducing user-guides into your startup teams

The user-guide started with CEOs and managers, but it’s quickly catching on as invaluable tool across the whole startup team as a way to increase understanding, build empathy and improve team dynamics. Depending on the culture of the team, it can be introduced at a one-to-one level with managers exploring the topics with each of their team members, or it can be designed into an exploratory team training day that incorporates extra insights from 16-personalities, like we’ve been doing recently with scaling teams. However you approach it, explain the benefits and allow everyone in your team to approach it in the way that works best for them – it is about generating better understanding of others, after all.

FounderCircle members can get the User guides worksheets here

If you’re interested in team training and coaching sessions to support this, get in touch for a chat.

Written by Christina Richardson, founder at weare3Sixty
Founder coach & trainer | Startup exec-team coach | FounderCircle® creator & head-coach. Passionate about sustainable founder performance, wellbeing and the leadership transition from founder to C-suite.

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