The Secrets of Creating a Vibrant Culture For Your Teams.
A no-nonsense guide to creating a high-energy, positive culture for your remote teams.
Culture is what happens when no one’s looking. Culture eats strategy for lunch. These are some of the common informal descriptions of culture. I think of culture as the soul of any team or organization.
Intangible and illusive, culture is a difficult concept to define and measure. But all of us feel it intuitively. I remember visiting a company for an interview years ago. As I walked down the halls, I watched the cubicles around me and how people interacted with each other. Somehow the few minutes from entrance to the the 3rd floor windowless office was enough for me to gauge that company’s culture, it’s level of energy, the vibe and all other things that are difficult to fit in an algorithm. In today’s world, your Slack channel is the virtual equivalent of walk-the-hall.
Organizational behavior experts have researched and written extensively about the critical importance of culture. No doubt that individuals as well as the society place a high value on the culture of a group or team.
The motivation for this post was a conference lunch chat with Aater Suleman, a successful entrepreneur who had built a strong culture at his startup. The key, he said, is to be intentional and rally people around a shared purpose and a core set of values.
If you are fortunate enough to be building a new organization, you can benefit from the experiences of others. Here’s a distillation of learning and observations, based on experiences of many wise souls aka wisdom of crowds (see selected references at the end.)
- Ethics, Sincerity and Respect. These are the global aspects which should be the underpinning of your organization. Without ethical behavior, sincerity and respect for all, there is no way that you can hope for a culture.
- Purpose. This is much harder than it looks. Having a shared purpose which resonates with people is a key success factor. Hiring someone who is not aligned with your organization’s purpose means you are messing up the culture.
- Values. This term has been thrown around so much it has become an empty cliche for most of us. Most organizations publish a value statement but the ground reality may be different. Hypocrisy is a top killer of culture. The idea is to have a few values which are practiced and valued by all especially the leadership. These values reinforce your culture. Example: Humbleness, Innovation and Transparency.
Foundation + Principles /Process + Tools
Here’s a checklist for culture.
10. Over-communicate your values, your principles and all the things that are important. Put things in writing and make information accessible to all. Create a cadence of rituals to share updates, achievements and failures.
09. Leaders must be authentic role models of the organization’s values .
08. Influence through dialog, not titles. Make people feel safe to voice their opinions.
07. Clearly delineate how decisions should be made at different levels (e.g. data- or evidence-driven, human judgement.) Encourage open discussions. Those who disagree must commit. Define how disputes will be resolved.
06. Have clarity on expected behavior without having to spell out details of every situation or exception (no one wants to read a 300-page company policy document.)
05. Autonomy and accountability come together. Define responsibilities clearly — objectives and key results should be well-defined.
04. Create meaningful events that bring teams together on a regular basis, from virtual coffee, messaging around various events, weekly standups to quarterly all-hands meetings. Make it fun, safe, judgement free and interactive.
03. Show that people come first: invest in work life balance / integration, personal development and provide generous compensation and benefits.
02. Hire for culture fit to preserve the core values but not for conformity. Brilliant jerks (those who consistently go against your values) are not worth the negative consequences they have on the culture.
01. Recognize and reward people. Be intentional. Flux7 instituted training and certification programs for providing feedback.
We shape our tools and our tools shape us. The right tools can do wonders for the culture but nothing can fix a bad foundation. The tools mentioned here are mere examples — none of these tools are without shortcomings or quirkiness.
- Conversations — Slack, Teams, Zoom etc.
- Collaboration — Box, Dropbox, Office365, G-Suite.
- Email — Outlook, Gmail.
- Meetings — Teams, Zoom, Webex.
- Recognition/Rewards — (tools that provide recognition and reward system, feedback and coaching, e.g. HeyTaco, Disco, Bonusly, etc. that integrate directly into the communications tool that the team uses)
- People Ops — (any tool to manage hiring/HR operational needs)
Tips and Traps
Finally a few things to keep you on track.
- Don’t take culture for granted.
- Be intentional and methodical about tracking your culture as you grow.
- Culture shifts over time, sub-cultures can develop.
- Align incentives with values.
- Be open to feedback, look out for blind spots and strive for diversity
Big thanks to Aater and Abigail for sharing their stories, wisdom and lessons.
Flux7 Culture Playbook — by Aater Suleman and Abigal Caldwell.
The Culture Code. https://danielcoyle.com/the-culture-code/
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