7 July 2020

Startup teams fail without neurodiversity and this is why.


When people mention diversity in a work-related settings, all we think about (or at least most of us) is demographic diversity. We need people of different ages, backgrounds, genders, and so forth. And yes, I do believe that’s completely true, so we shouldn’t change our opinion when it comes to this topic. What we should change, however, is our perception of diversity in the workplace. Or actually the broadness of this perception. Diversity is namely about more than demographics – it’s also about neurological differences. 

In this blog I will introduce the concept of neurodiversity and explain why startup teams with a lack of neurodiversity are most likely to fail. 



Neurodiversity: An introduction

Where demographic diversity focuses on visible, social-economic characteristics of a human being (age, gender, race and sex), neurodiversity focuses on invisible, neurological differences in our brain. This is the type of human characteristics that for instance determine someone’s creativity, self-reliance, innovative thinking, resilience and self-control. 

Demographic diversity in your team is a proven business case. However, this is not purely because of the fact that different ages, genders or races are a guaranteed success formula. The reason why demographic diversity improves your team performances is because we associate certain neurological characteristics with these different demographic characteristics. And many times, that is actually right. In general, there are common differences between men and women. And in general, there are common differences between people of different ages. But that’s not always the case. And that’s where the concept of neurodiversity comes in. 


If it’s so important, then why didn’t I ever hear of this before?

As you can imagine, revealing neurodiversity in your team is quite a challenge. Where demographic diversity is visible and ‘easy’ to measure, neurodiversity isn’t – simply because you can’t look into someone’s head. Besides, the interest in neuro-assessments has highly increased over the years, but ten years ago, both research and assessment methods were very limited. 

Nowadays, this is completely different. The offer of neuro assessments is not only growing rapidly, but new pricing models moreover make it affordable and even attractive for startups to use them as well. And that’s something we should be extremely happy about, because the smaller your team is, the more certain you should be about every new hire that you bring into your company. 


Why startup teams with a lack of neurodiversity fail

Last February, when we raised VC funding, one of the last ‘checkboxes’ we needed to pass was our founding team – or to be more precisely, the composition of the characteristics that we as a founding team represented. And there’s actually a solid reason why VCs care so much about this (not only for the founding team by the way, but you can’t always assess the entire team). 

The reason why they are so focused on getting to know the founding team is because, if all founders would represent a similar set of skills and characteristics, the company will most likely fail. Now let’s provide you with an example to make this more tangible.

Let’s say that we are talking about a B2B SaaS startup, with 10-20 people and 3 founders on board – a CEO, CCO and CTO (and no, I am not referring to Equalture ;-)). What all three founders have in common is their level is resilience (which is extremely important for both startup founders and a startup team), and logical reasoning. However, what is not represented by all three of them is creativity and self-control.

The reason why resilience and logical reasoning is so important during the stage in which you are growing from 11-50 people in your company, is because in this stage a lot of things will still change. You will find your product-market fit, determine your expansion strategy, your team dynamics will heavily change, and moreover, things won’t be easy. So if you as a team represent these traits, you are already halfway there.

Creativity and self-control, however, are also traits that determine your startup’s success. Creativity is something you definitely need in order to translate your idea into a real product, with a real sales strategy, a real competitive advantage and a stunning customer onboarding. Besides, self-control is something you need when getting more customer-facing, and this trait also influences your ability to have a long-term vision over a short-term mindset. We founders already have the tendency to go into all directions at the same time, so without some self-control in the team you’ll turn into a race car without a steer.  


And guess what: This is not only important in your founding team.

Why? Well, because startups turn into scaleups once they successfully grow. And that’s not just because of the fact that you have such an incredible founding team.

Startups become scaleups because of their people. Their people determine team success, and team success determines company growth. And the recipe for this team success is your team composition – the extent to which your team represents an optimal level of demographic diversity, but moreover neurodiversity. Decades of research have proven that certain team compositions highly predict the success of these teams. Some examples within scaleups:

  • Sales teams need resilience, stress resistance, self-prioritising and critical thinking;
  • Engineering teams need logical reasoning, self-reliance and accuracy;
  • Customer Success teams need self-control and problem solving;
  • Marketing teams need long-term focus and creativity;
  • And Management teams need all of these traits and even more.

If your team(s) fundamentally lacks some of these crucial neurological traits, you will face some serious difficulties on your way to scaling your dream. That’s why neurodiversity is key. And that’s why you should always be aware of your team composition. 

If you would like to learn more about how Equalture’s Team Composition Technology can help you with that, you know where to find us.


Cheers, Charlotte