Chapter 20. The Guard

The Old Guard is the set of humans who inhabit the early days of a start-up. As I’ve written about before, they define the culture in both obvious and nonobvious ways. Simply put, the way they act and how they treat each other disproportionately affects the values of the company.

The Old Guard get to be the Old Guard because they are successful and the team grows large enough to allow for the existence of the New Guard. The New Guard are not initially defined by their ability, age, or experience; they are defined by when they are hired. They were not there in the formative early days of the company, and they start their jobs at a distinct cultural disadvantage.

I’ve arrived at my last three jobs at roughly the same growth inflection point: during the arrival, education, and integration of the New Guard. My job places me directly and strategically between these two populations, which is why much of my writing for the past decade has focused on debugging and documenting how each group works, what they value, and how they interact (or fail to).

And at each company, the following seminal meeting has occurred…

The Disaster Meeting

A disaster has occurred. The specifics aren’t important. What is important is that neither the Old Guard nor the New Guard predicted the disaster. Everyone was surprised, so someone called a meeting. I can tell the magnitude of the disaster because everyone is invited: Old Guard and New.

The meeting begins. As they always do, someone ...

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