Fostering an Insurtech Startup Culture

The Automated Insurer | Leadership

By Mike de Waal | 15 December 2021

Key Points

Insurtech startup culture is a management approach that emphasizes innovation, collaboration, and individual achievement within the insurance industry.

As a trusted insurtech service provider for over twenty years, Global IQX is far from a startup. That said, we work hard to maintain the positive elements of an insurtech startup – creativity, collaboration, experimentation, growth, and a commitment to transforming the insurance industry.

In this article, we share some of the ways we cultivated a permanent insurtech startup culture over the past two decades. These include:

  • Team-building activities.
  • Creating a physical environment that fosters innovation.
  • Seeking creativity in the hiring process.
  • Balancing deep with collaboration.

Incorporating creativity, innovation, and deep work as part of your corporate culture may seem like an obvious step in strengthening your business overall, but it is often neglected. 

In a competitive insurance and insurtech market, attracting creative people for your team can be a challenge. However, insurtech startup businesses are known for their successful ability to attract and retain talented employees through a culture that prioritizes open communication, collaboration, team building, and individual growth. 

“Startup culture” refers to nurturing a creative and innovative culture by offering tools and activities that allow employees to bond, feel heard, and continue learning within their roles. 

Organizations of any size can borrow “startup culture” elements to strengthen their team. Here are some ways to foster an innovative and creative culture in your business. 

Deep Work: The Flip-side of Collaboration

In addition to creativity and innovation, employers need to incorporate deep work as part of their startup culture in today’s digital world.

Author Cal Newport coined the term deep work to describe a distraction-free environment where people can focus on one task for an extended period. Yac, a provider of asynchronous meeting services, elaborates

Fostering a culture of deep work is not as simple as advising your team not to distract each other. Instead, it’s about baking in processes, workflows, communication practices, and more that create an environment that allows for deep work to take place.

Since the pandemic, open-plan workspaces are diminishing in startup cultures. Recent research has indicated this may be a positive change toward limiting distractions and improving productivity. 

For example, a Harvard Business School study found open offices reduced face-face interactions by 73% and increased email messages by 67%. Additionally, a 2016 study found that time spent on collaborative activities increased by 50% over the prior two decades, with significant productivity costs.

This does not mean that collaboration is outdated. Workplaces of the future need to effectively balance individualized deep work and open, social collaboration to be successful. 

Listen to Your Employees

Your employees want to work in an environment where their creativity is encouraged and valued. This means they need their own ideas to be acknowledged, listened to, and considered for implementation. 

Teresa M. Amabile, a Harvard professor and psychologist, explains more; 

High-creativity projects tended to have environments that were more intellectually challenging and offered sufficient resources, greater degrees of freedom, and much encouragement of innovative thinking, as opposed to harsh evaluation of new ideas—all aspects that support intrinsic motivation.

Instead of shooting down employee ideas, supervisors should create a framework where innovative ideas can be piloted. 

For example, an employee could write a thoughtful proposal to get funding for a pilot project, or be allotted time to work on anything they think would improve the company. Google popularized this particular model with the introduction of their 20% Project, which enabled employees to commit up to a fifth of their time on personal projects for the company. Both Gmail and Adsense resulted from this initiative. Giving the employees the green light to “tinker” can help any organization become more innovative.

While not every proposal can be accepted, providing a clear and transparent framework for idea generation is critical to fostering a culture of creativity and innovation. 

Additionally, companies should emphasize A/B testing and empirical data as part of the idea proposal process. That way, the data will determine whether an idea has objective potential. 

Act to Build Your Creative Insurtech Startup Culture

Reward employees that consistently bring innovative and creative ideas to the table. If someone comes up with an innovative idea beneficial to your company, consider mentioning it in the next group Zoom meeting. Appreciation goes a long way when building a culture. 

Additionally, make full use of employee feedback to correct your teams’ actions. To facilitate this, you’ll need to create an anonymous survey to evaluate if your managers and supervisors display the values you want your company’s culture to embody. Then, based on the feedback from the surveys, you can provide leadership and culture training for your managers and supervisors so any pain points or questions can be highlighted and addressed. 

Amabile elaborates further on the importance of leadership in creative environments

The most creative projects were done under supervisors who fostered clear, honest communication, valued individual contributions to team projects and set clear goals. And organizational supports, such as a free flow of ideas within the organization and mechanisms for developing new ideas, were also important for high creativity.

Evaluate Creativity in the Hiring Process

The hiring process is a critical component for how insurtech startups can foster a culture of creativity. While it’s important to hire candidates who can execute their tasks efficiently, employers need to ask questions that examine their mindset and skills equally. 

Some examples include; 

  • What are you genuinely passionate about? 
  • Why do you want to work for our company? 
  • What can you contribute to our company’s culture?
  • Where do you want to be in five years? 

The World Economic Forum even created workshops for their candidates to partake in during the interview process. 

Create an Inspired Workplace

Large open spaces, comfortable living room setups, ample windows that provide lots of sunlight, and facilities such as showers and bike parking are becoming the new normal for innovative startup workspaces. 

A study from the University of Oregon says 10% of US employees’ sick days are due to a lack of natural light.  Meanwhile, bringing plants into the office can improve productivity by 15%. Think about quick wins that can be achieved by making simple changes to your office’s physical space. 

If you aren’t building an office from scratch, providing group workspaces with whiteboards and markers, as well as offering your team new laptops and other technology products, can help get your employees’ creative juices flowing.

Remember to Have Fun

Creative team building breaks the monotony of spending the day at the office working on insurance claims or underwriting files. Regular team-building activities provide an opportunity to get out, have fun, and relax while encouraging collaboration and team bonding. They help eliminate employee burnout, improve productivity and increase retention.

Team-building activities usually revolve around the completion of tasks and problem-solving. Completing these tasks boosts employees’ confidence and trust in their unique abilities. Confidence is a significant source of motivation that is transferred to the workplace. Therefore, creative team building contributes to a positive corporate culture that boosts employee morale. 

Additionally, team-building activities are a great way for you and your employees to meet new colleagues. A report by Gallup says having friendships at the office can lead to being twice as likely to be committed at work.

Creative Team-building Ideas

There are many different team-building activities to choose from, depending on budget, team size, and team dynamics. Here are a few activity ideas that my team loved at Global IQX:

  • Escape rooms: employees in teams collaborate on cracking codes and solving mysteries. This is an excellent way to boost communication, encourage problem-solving, and create camaraderie.
  • Seasonal virtual or in-person office parties and personal celebrations: what better way to create a sense of family and bring employees and management together? Fun activities provide a lot of needed laughs. For example, we had a foosball tournament in the office. Bosses and workers alike can don goofy hats and have a good time. We also had a company-wide virtual costume contest on Halloween.
  • Recreational sports and tournaments: friendly competition and teamwork are great ways to create friendships and lasting bonds among teams. For instance, we had a zipline adventure at a nearby camp.

Insurtech Startup Culture is About Consistency

As you build your company’s culture, remember it’s a long-term process. You cannot expect your team to flourish with creativity and innovation from day one. Instead, you must constantly be open to employee feedback and modify functions until you find a recipe that works for your business. 

Get the latest insights to your inbox

Mike de Waal

Mike de Waal is president and founder of Global IQX, an Ottawa-based software provider of AI-driven sales and service solutions to employee benefits insurers.  He has deep experience in both software development and business management skills. Early in his career, he worked as a computer programmer and then went on to become a financial planner and a benefits consultant with giant Manulife Financial before becoming a tech entrepreneur.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Jim Harris Speaking on Digital Disruption in Employee Benefits
Person using their phone and laptop at the same time
Cybersecurity expert in front of a computer