What is team culture and why should you care

wearebridgie.io by lovekozhukhovskaya

As a founder, you’ve probably heard of ‘culture’ by now. But what exactly is it?

It’s first important to realize that culture isn’t something you can build overnight, by adding some pillows to your office and employer branding. It’s something that must be grown alongside the growth in your company and team size, but it can be set even from one person. Workplace culture consists of the values, people and communication of a company; essentially, it forms a community that thrives on the participation of all parties.

When it comes to building culture at your startup, remember this key principle: culture is set by leaders not by HR. It is diffused by people.

It’s easy to assume company culture is all about team lunches, free massages and arcade games. It is certainly a simple mistake many early startup founders seem to make. Whilst perks certainly do improve your team’s mood, they aren’t what drives the culture.

As a founder, the initial culture and values need to come from you. This is part of your responsibility to the organisation. You are the initial champion of culture and need to align each new employee to your goals and values.

Joel Gascoigne, CEO of a social media start-up, defines culture as “ There’s no right or wrong with culture, it is simply a combination of the natural personality of the founding team in addition to proactive work to push the culture in the desired direction and to maintain certain values.

I think to build a culture that can inspire people to want to work for you, you will want to take the time to make specific changes to shape it. At Buffer, culture is definitely something we’re starting to be more deliberate about.”

In a similar vein, the co-founder of HubSpot Darmesh Shah agrees, saying “The culture of a startup is defined by three things: 1. How the founders behave, 2. Who they recruit, reward, and recognize. 3. Who they release (let go).”

Why should you care about culture

Team culture is critical for achieving your business and hiring goals. Culture sets the tone, permeating every aspect of the team and the quality of their work.

A team’s culture reinforces the goals and objectives of the overall organization in ways that strategic directives, performance reviews, and staff meetings alone can’t foster. Culture is never switched off and becomes implicit for the team members living it daily.

A strong organizational culture keeps your company’s core values front and center in all aspects of its day-to-day operations and organizational structure. While individual accomplishments, product milestones, major deals, and setbacks may temporarily steal the spotlight, a team’s culture shapes the day-to-day life of employees. Sharing core values and goals not only helps to build employee satisfaction but helps overall performance.

Plus, your employer brand will also be bolstered by ex-employees who champion your culture beyond their call of duty.

How to define your team culture

Wondering how to define culture even in a small team?

Start with knowing what you value as a founder. Chances are when you started the company you had a clear vision in mind. Even if that changes over time, make sure to infuse this mission across all areas of the organisation. If you don’t know which values to focus on, reflect on your positive and negative experiences with workplace culture in past situations and list relevant concepts and values.

Next, ensure those values are actionable. Find a framework for measuring culture, whether it’s tools like Peakon or NPS, or by direct conversations with team members. Culture will take time to shape and often your team members may not initially align from CV alone. Spend time on actioning culture every week through open conversation.

If you’re still unsure where to start building your team’s culture, here are some questions you can ask yourself while brainstorming:

  • Why do I/my team love coming to work?
  • What are the team’s work habits?
  • What is the mission of the company and the team?
  • Are we a diverse team?
  • How social is the team?
  • How many skill sets exist in the team?
  • How does the team collaborate?
  • Where do ideas come from?
  • How does the team deal with problems?

Most importantly, have fun with culture planning. This is a great opportunity to not only make your company a great place to work, but also clarify your own vision in the process. Getting clarity on WHY you do what you do can be enlightening.

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Eva Balúchová

Eva Balúchová

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