Company Culture and Why it’s Not as Simple as You Think.

I work at a tech startup in Toronto, called BoostHQ, that currently has 11 employees. You would think with such a small team, company culture isn’t something that’s necessarily always on our mind, and to be honest, in the beginning it wasn’t, until it had to be. There seems to be a disconnect whether people strongly believe in company culture while others regard it as a waste of time. I fell in the spectrum of thinking it was really important, specifically after noticing it was one of the pivotal reasons why were starting to crumble as a team.

To give you a little bit of a backstory, everyone here at BoostHQ has a very critical role. Instead of having a team of 3–4 for each department, we essentially have 1 person who is the whole department. This seems to be the case for many startups since resources are limited, thereby, everyone needs to learn how to wear different hats and be open to completing tasks outside of their job title. This is what makes working at a startup so rewarding but also so challenging.

The problem is since everyone is so busy and focused on work, there is no project manager of any sort keeping on top of all due dates and task completions. It ends up being pawned on the individual to stay on top of everything and be proactive.

Overtime, we noticed the momentum of our company was slowing down. Deadlines internally were not being met on time, people seemed to be demotivated and work was becoming overall lackluster. Everyone seemed to be working on different wavelengths and there seemed to be absolutely no unity. The ironic thing is that as a smaller team of 5–6, our work ethic was excellent and our dynamic was working. The problem arose as more and more employees were being hired. Something definitely needed to be done.

I asked for a team meeting in order to address the issues happening at work and I believed the sole root of it was due to our lacking company culture.

We needed something to help shape the soul of our company; to unify what we believe, our actions, attitudes, and workflow. After some digging, we realized that as a team, we didn’t even have a consistent mission and vision of our company.

After many long meetings we came up with a plan. For us, our core was that everyone- from the newest entry-level employee to CEO- must have a voice. Our company strives on innovation and the greatest ideas come from people not necessarily designing our products but from the people using it and testing it. We wanted to completely revamp our team dynamic, so here are some strategies we decided on that may hopefully help your team facing similar problems.

  • Constant communication and team meetings. Culture is not top-down but leadership is a key element.
  • Foster a workplace environment where employees can interact, collaborate and share knowledge. We created an open work space environment.
  • Flesh out a detailed mission and vision and ensure all employees believe it.
  • Weekly lunch days to create a more open work environment where employees feel comfortable, valued and appreciated. (Employees vote for what take out lunch they want that week).
  • Integrating project management software and making sure everyone updates it. Including: Trello and Basecamp
  • Being more involved in colleagues projects. “Ask for help when you think a colleague has the expertise and know-how” became a mantra.
  • Team building exercises to build trust and show how everyone is an asset and a value.
  • Team activities including: bowling, rock climbing, archery, pizza party, dinners whenever deemed appropriate, etc.

Now, what worked for us may not work for everyone, especially since some of these activities can be costly. Here are some tips that go beyond team building events and are free:

  • Acknowledging meaningful work. Not just from the boss or manager, but everyone in the team praising and acknowledging colleagues work.
  • Creating more autonomy; allow employees time to direct themselves. This makes them feel trusted and valued.
  • Allow them opportunity to become better at their job. Help employees go to a certification course, show the employee you value them enough to put effort into improving their skill set.
  • Make employees feel their work is part of a bigger whole. Ask yourself; when you’re not at work for a day, do you think your presence is missed?

Now, there’s really no strategy to do this, rather just have a different approach to team members and employees. Feeling like you have time to just go over and talk to your colleagues- without feeling like you’ll be judged about not doing work- does wonders on motivation and teamwork.

Ever since we implemented a more intrinsic company culture we’ve bolstered more employee loyalty, productivity, reduced negative behavior (workplace politics), increased creativity, became more trusting and definitely became more engaged. The most important improvement we made as a team was becoming more emotionally connected to what we do thereby, increasing our happiness and job satisfaction. Trust me- workplace culture makes a huge impact!