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This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post. 

The words “company culture” by definition have taken on an entirely new meaning within the past few years. Culture is the current all-encompassing word that can describe the type of toilet paper you stock in your office to how many remote workers you allow in your company. While those variables are only a few of the hundreds that create a successful culture within a team–there is often a deep, untapped reservoir of awareness among many companies large and small. This team wide awareness is your most powerful resource in a world cluttered with beer perks and promises of stale pretzels.

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Defining Culture
The translation of culture is often as far fetched and vague as you may expect. For those working in the startup space or another fast-paced and emerging industry, the word culture is often uttered a few times a day. While every organization clings to certain definitions, the global obsession with company culture is more intoxicating than ever before. But what does it all mean?

At UP, we tend to recognize company culture as a series of consistent behaviors, the aggregation of multiple minds that probably spend too much time together, and a strong dose of spirit and discipline. The best companies allow their core mission to shine through every email they send and every product they ship. While many do produce a manifesto with pretty info graphics and witty social media posts, it’s not always necessary. All of those actions only supplement the natural culture already in place.

Recent publications may insist companies should display a numerical list of perks that serve as a checklist for teams. Entire conferences and panels now educate people on how stellar company culture should look and feel. Zappos, who happens to nail company culture, gives an entire public tour that showcases how zany and wonderful their people are. But the core of Zappos culture is the people and they know it. Of course they offer fun perks to the team but at the end of every quarter, they value their team. Most company websites now include vignettes of what happens under their company roof as a recruitment tactic. And while there is certainly no shortage of advice on culture in the workplace, there is a shortage on how to make this trendy buzzword tangible.

Lost in the midst of what the other companies are doing, we are forgetting about the key aspect of culture — the people. The more you focus on the culture of other teams, the more you can forget your own. Too much influence from another company could also prove to have a negative effect on your existing culture. Of course, there is always room for inspiration, but too many companies boast cultures that simply begin to bleed together. Does everyone in America truly enjoy foosball? We need to stop assuming what works for one team, will always work for our team.

Even when organizations seem to have amazing, Forbes-worthy culture, those on the outside are only seeing the public-facing elements. We are seeing what they allow us to see. Companies that are smart enough — and sometimes, lucky enough — to have a great culture know they must protect it. In Noam Wasserman’s The Founder’s Dilemmas, he suggests the reason some companies falter is due to their leadership transitions which will naturally disrupt company culture. If the morale of a team is terrible, they are going to have a damn hard time accomplishing anything of importance.

Google has stated “there are 2 million applications sent for every 500 jobs available.” That kind of demand is partially due to an applicant’s desire to be on that famous team. Prospective employees are no longer applying for jobs for the sole purpose of the the role. People want to work on fantastic, productive teams and those teams are not built overnight. The culture of highly functioning people who work well together is something to be admired and respected.

Who Owns It
All of the team happy hours and company curated experiences are fun. But behind the paintball trips and games of Cards Against Humanity, something quite magical is happening. If you do it right, there will be an organic and worthy sense of trust amongst your team. The ultimate goal for any group of people who spend 10-12 hours a day together should be to have an aligned sense of fun paired with an equal portion of ambitious hard work. How a team defines the two is totally up to them. It is not a task that is set aside for the CEO or the Office Manager. A company’s culture is shared by each and every person on the payroll. It is an accomplishment every single person in the company must fight for.

The true heart of any company resides in the hands of every employee. Culture is an idea that is often difficult to communicate. At UP Global, our culture is constantly being redefined with every new hire, every .gif sent, and every failure we experience. The power of great people on a team does not need a “rockstar” and they certainly do not need a foosball table. They just need the people.


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Demi Wetzel