Building Teams: Creating a Successful Organizational Culture

A couple of years ago I wrote “What is a Company Culture and why CEOs must care?“.  There I mentioned that there is no universal definition of an organizational culture.  But how can we then define culture?

Let’s start with Wikipedia – Wikipedia defines Organizational Culture as follows:

  • a company culture is the set of behaviors that employees exhibit and the meanings that they attach to those behaviors
  • the culture represents everyone’s collective values, beliefs, and principles
  • includes the company’s vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits

Also, I like this definition from Dharmesh Shah who is the co-founder of Hubspot – Dharmesh says that culture is “the operating system that powers our organization”. He said that talent is attracted to a great culture, and that a healthy culture provides an environment in which people can set forth their best ideas and work.  It attracts A-player talent who are the biggest asset to the company and who will make your company a successful and these employees will also attract other best-in-class talent.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture“, Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jesse Price and J. Yo-Jud Cheng write that “Strategy and culture are among the primary levers at top leaders’ disposal in their never-ending quest to maintain organizational viability and effectiveness. Strategy offers a formal logic for the company’s goals and orients people around them. Culture expresses goals through values and beliefs and guides activity through shared assumptions and group norms.” They also write that “Culture, however, is a more elusive lever, because much of it is anchored in unspoken behaviors, mindsets, and social patterns.”

Additionally, according this this HBS article: “Culture is the tacit social order of an organization: It shapes attitudes and behaviors in wide-ranging and durable ways. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group. When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive.”


What are the Benefits of a Successful Culture?

According to WebMD, happier workers work better and a company with happier employees has lower absenteeism and enjoys better productivity performance (source: WebMD). Happier employees produce better corporate performance.  They are also more loyal so you will have a lower turnover in talent.  A great culture will be attractive to A-level talent.

People are your company’s biggest asset (I wrote about this before – examples: here and here), and they will either be engaged or disengaged based on your company’s culture which in turn affects other people at the company as well as how they service your customers which ultimately impacts your company’s performance.


How to Create a Successful Culture and Manage It Proactively?

According to the Harvard Business Review article mentioned above, the authors write: “Our work suggests that culture can, in fact, be managed. ”

How to you create and proactively manage the culture?  I wrote previously about “How to Improve Your Company Culture” and summarizing a more complete set of points below.

  1. Define your Core Values / Core Principles
  2. Define the Culture & state clearly which traits or behaviors are valued in your culture
  3. Lead by example and set the tone at the top and model the right behaviors
  4. Offer your “Head of People” a secondary title as “Head of Culture”
  5. Appoint “cultural ambassadors” those who truly embody your culture
  6. Reinforce the culture through consistent communication and regularly
  7. Discuss the Culture at your regular “all hands on deck” meetings
  8. Create and hand out a “culture deck” (like Hubspot or Netflix – see below)
  9. Ensure to cover your Culture in your internal quarterly newsletter
  10. Be a Servant Leader and genuinely care about helping your people
  11. Train and coach your leaders all the way down to front-line managers on the Culture imperatives
  12. Monitor the culture (there are even apps that measure and track culture metrics and employee engagement)


Tactical Insights to Fostering a Positive Culture?

  • Get to know your people personally in 1-on-1s
  • Provide encouragement and support
  • Proactively seek out good things that your people do and show appreciation
  • Ensure flexibility at work and work-life balance
  • Bring positivity and enthusiasm to the workplace daily
  • Lead with a positive attitude in all of your interactions
  • Give people more autonomy
  • Celebrate wins regularly
  • Reward people and teams
  • Do fun events, activities and retreats
  • Energize people at work (i.e. more on this here – HBR article)
  • Ask your people what they recommend to foster a positive culture and do that


Have you ever looked at HubSpot’s Culture Code: Creating a company we love or at the Netflix Culture Deck? It’s interesting to note what Netflix says there about the way they take their core values very seriously:  “The actual company values, as opposed to nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go.”


What else? What are some other thoughts on organizational culture?