How a Foosball Table Can Kill Your Startup

by Jun 23, 2009Operations Leadership

Back when I was working in Chicago at a scale-up company, I used to have great conversations with the president of the company about our various approaches to managing businesses. We shared war stories, ramblings about taxation in the US and EU, and the software developers’ versions of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. But one thing that stuck with me was his statement: “This company will never own a foosball table because every company I have seen own one went under months after purchasing it”. The conversation that ensued is worth thinking about. When considering what is “cool to have” for employee morale and what they really need, we really need to distance ourselves from our egos.

  • First and foremost – as leaders of companies we need to think about how to make our people more efficient and not about how much longer can we keep them in the office. Long hours do not equal a good work product. If someone is tired and needs a distraction, they need to go home and recharge.
  • This leads me to the next point – inefficiency caused by your team members. In the case of a foosball table or anything else that involves more than just one person to “blow off steam”, it is a bad judgment to enable an environment where one person could drag another one to “play” and therefore drag down the efficiency of the team. How do you help people not get distracted? Simple – don’t provide them with the temptation to do so.
  • Last point – “cool stuff” might be something your recruiter will talk about when wooing someone to join the company, but beyond that, it is a waste of time, money, and operational efficiency. It is also bad for employee morale and work-life balance. Perks like 401K matches, more days off, encouragement of the staff to get physicals, telecommuting, etc, are what matters and will make your employees stick around. All those “tchotchke” benefits have the same value as the cheap promotional items you get from vendors – cool to talk about for maybe 15 seconds.

UPDATE (2/15/10): Please see part two of this article: How a foosball table can kill your startup – part two

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