The Agile Startup Week 13: Cross-Continental Cross-Training

Note: The Strategic Agility Institute is following GILD Collective, a startup in the crafting industry, as it goes through a nationally recognized startup accelerator. Check out previous posts to get up to speed on this project. 

When a few people get together and found a startup, they’re trying to combine their efforts in a way that will create something new and useful for the world. Even if that something has a proven model—for example, in a franchise—the team of cofounders often must learn a great deal as they move forward. They have to push through the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) that surrounds them. 

In that process, tasks and responsibilities often get divided based upon people’s skills or knowledge. That makes sense. But over time, it can lead to a brittle structure if one person’s absence creates a dangerous vacuum.

Namely, when a team’s success or failure depends on any one person, the system is fragile. 

So in many respects, it’s been good that some of the members of the GILD Collective team have had periods of time away. Being part of the Cincinnati-based business accelerator The Brandery, the team is part of a program that’s driving them to grow quickly, and that puts a great deal of pressure on the team. But on the two occasions when one of three GILD Collective cofounders was away from the team, the remaining members have had to learn how other critical tasks get done. 

For example, as mentioned in last week’s blog, for the past 10 days, one member of the team (Kelsey) was in Ireland on a trip that had been planned for many months in advance. Although she stayed in touch with her team and completed a number of important tasks while she was away, her fellow cofounders (Jessie and Rachel) had to complete many of the tasks that she normally handles.

This “cross-continental cross-training,” in my opinion, is good for the team for the following reasons: 

  1. It builds redundancy of knowledge and skill within the team. By forcing team members to learn at least some of the details about what other people do on the team, the temporary absence of a key player provides a unique opportunity for the team to become more resilient. 
  2. It builds empathy and appreciation. We often don’t know exactly what people do in their jobs until we have to do it ourselves. When a key player is absent temporarily, those team members who fill in the gaps get the opportunity to experience firsthand what the missing team member does. This allows them to understand and appreciate the team member who wasn’t around even more than before. 
  3. It sparks new ideas. When confronting a new task, people often will go about completing it in a slightly different way. Upon the return of the key player to the team, the whole team can have a highly productive conversation about what they learned and the possibilities for improvement based upon those lessons. 

The team’s ratings of VUCA regarding the past week were similar to those of the week prior. Being that they’re a startup, of course, VUCA is part of their normal routine. 

Here are the summaries of their ratings of each aspect of VUCA. 

Regardless of the location of cofounders, the whirlwind continues. 

In addition to learning a great deal and developing some new ideas while Kelsey was away, the GILD Collective team also reported that they managed to stay positive and focused on the future while handling the “fires” presented to them daily. Now that Kelsey is back, she’s busy catching up and getting reintegrated into the workflow. 

Part of the daily workflow now includes updating their website to communicate clearly about their “hostess-only” model of crafting parties that they’re trying in Cleveland. (They’ve actually updated quite a bit on the site recently, so be sure to check it out.

At the same time, the team is well aware that on Oct. 7—22 days from today—they’ll be presenting what they’ve done, what they’re doing and where they’re headed to a group of potential investors as part of The Brandery’s Demo Day. As such, they’re continually balancing their focus between the everyday activities and the structure of their business model and their overall story. 

Be sure to check back in next week for another update from GILD Collective as they navigate the VUCA world of startups. 

About GILD Collective
GILD Collective is the brainchild of three friends—Kelsey Pytlik, Rachel Bauer McCreary and Jessie Deye. It’s a business focused on crafting, which happens to be about a $29 billion industry. GILD Collective seeks to join that industry by offering instructor-led craft parties, in which customers will pick the project, location and participants. GILD Collective will bring the supplies and expertise, allowing party participants to explore their creative sides and make something with their own hands. For more information, visit:

About The Strategic Agility Institute™
The Strategic Agility Institute™ (SAI) is a collaborative, global effort dedicated to the production and communication of agility-focused knowledge. We're building a community founded upon a common interest in helping people and organizations become agile and thrive in the face of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. For more information, visit: