George Levin on How Hints Boost Team Productivity

George Levin on How Hints Boost Team Productivity

Jan 18, 2023

Ten years ago, I used to work at a startup. Our office had a poster with ten companies’ values on every wall. The vibe of that values was "faster, higher, stronger." It was the essence of toxic productivity. I didn't take them seriously and thought that company's values were marketing fluff. Like Google's: "Great just isn't good enough." 

After launching my startup, Hints, I realized that values could be super practical and boost the team's productivity. Together with the founding team, we stated four values that helped us to become more productive. In this video, I'm going to share them with you and explain why they are important. 

But let's begin by answering the question - why does a company need values? If you look at some companies' values, you may decide the goal is to show off.

Let's take Coca-Cola’s "Each one of us can make a big difference for a better shared future." Or Whole Food's "We satisfy and delight our customers."

I believe values should be meta-rules or directions that help make quick decisions without consulting supervisors instead of advertising slogans. In this case, you can replace 100 rules and guidelines with just a few values. So your team will get a direction and will feel free of being micro-managed. 

Meta rules define boundaries and give your team the keys to prioritizing work. Now, I'll share our values at Hints.

Value 1. We save our mental energy.

This value came from my personal philosophy. If you remove things that waste your energy and create friction, you'll be surprised at how much is left. Not wasting energy is actually easier than trying to boost it. 

We have written four examples to explain the meaning of this value and illustrate how exactly we want to save our mental energy. 

  1. We trust each other and remember that every team member acts with the best intentions. 

Trust is super important in the company. It's the foundation of all other values. Lack of trust creates friction. It's impossible to stay productive when there is no trust in the team. You can read "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team" to learn how to build trust in your team.

  1. Speak up before it gets worse. 

It's another example of how you can save a lot of energy. If you feel something's wrong, you are upset about something, or you disagree, you need to address it. Easier said than done, but remember that someone always pays for your silence. It's either you are paying with your wasted energy when you feel resentment or your team members when you start projecting your anger and frustration on them. 

  1. Zero toxicity 

Toxic behavior drains a lot of energy and is a red flag. We don't work with toxic partners, clients, and employees. A talented but toxic person steals more energy than creates value. 

  1. We take care of our mental health.

Every startup is a marathon, not a sprint. If your work harms your mental health, you are doing something wrong and need to pause and discuss it with the manager. 

Value 2. We communicate openly.

Open communication is the second foundation after trust, but it's a skill that takes time to develop. Here are four examples to clarify this value

  1. Everyone makes mistakes and has weaknesses. 

Everyone has ups and downs, and we need to remember that. Instead of avoiding it, we should clearly communicate our downs and weaknesses. When you need to learn how to do a specific task, it makes more sense to admit it than pretend that you know it. It will create more trust. If you have an unproductive day, it's important to admit it. Your colleagues will know what's going on with you instead of guessing. 

"The gentle overcomes the rigid. The slow overcomes the fast. The weak overcomes the strong." — Lao Tzu

  1. It's hard to give negative feedback, but it’s necessary. 

The quality of the relationship in the team depends on how many uncomfortable conversations you had. Let's talk about two main mistakes in giving feedback. Either feedback is indirect and soft, so it's not obvious that it was given, or it's too direct, which makes the other person defensive. In the description below, here is a link to a very useful video on how to give constructive feedback: [](

  1. Share your assumptions and expectations several times

You are most likely wrong if you think people know what you mean. It would help if you said at least twice what you mean and where your assumptions are coming from to be understood. Why does it happen? We can't always stay focused on everything. So if you said something at the meeting, chances are that 50% of the team missed it. So don't assume you are always heard. Repeat yourself several times to avoid frustration. 

  1. Don't be afraid to look stupid.

If you're having trouble understanding something, somebody else in the room is also. Asking questions doesn't mean you're the stupidest person in the room. It usually means you're the only one brave enough to speak up.

The first two values were more cultural. The third one is more about how we want to build the product. 

Value 3. Gain knowledge about users as fast as possible.

Features, design, and technology are less important than knowledge about users. If you are sure what your users want, the rest is simple. But how to speed up the learning process?

  1. Do any two-minute task as soon as you can.

We took this one from the famous book "Getting Things Done by David Allen. It means if you have an idea, don't put it aside. Share it now. If you see a problem, don't wait for the right moment. Speak up now. One small step can launch a chain of changes that can bring new knowledge.

  1. Only the simplest and quickest solutions. 

Building a solution isn't the goal. The goal is to build a solution as quickly as possible to get new knowledge on how users interact with it. Also, before creating new things, we need to research whether something similar was already built and learn from it. 

  1. Done is better than perfect.

This value is trendy, and we couldn't put it better. If we can release a new product or feature, we should do it even if it could be better. The negative feedback can be valuable knowledge.   

The fourth value is the most important one.

Value 4. Common sense is beyond everything.

This value is necessary for any organization. Sometimes rules or guidelines go against common sense. It means we have to stop and challenge these rules. I know there is no clear definition of common sense, but if you hire a team that shares your values, you will also share a definition of common sense. 

If you want to state values for your company, your founding team must be sharing them. It took us about six months to formulate our values. I wrote the first draft. Then we took a month to think about it with the co-founders. They added something new and removed everything that didn't resonate with them. Then we discussed these values with the whole team and made some adjustments. We paused for a couple of months to process the values and see how they reflected in our day-to-day routine. Then we repeated the same exercise several times until we all felt aligned. Now, when we are on the same page, we see how having these values in place makes us more productive and saves time.

PS This blog features insights from our podcast Hints: Productivity for Startups. Check out our YouTube channel for more tech-focused content to boost your startup productivity!

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