Luckily, it’s not as hard as you’d think…
You’ve probably already heard that business culture is important. Higher job satisfaction leads to higher productivity and blah blah blah. But how does business culture really relate to a small business? Is there such a thing as small business culture anyway? And would you go about creating it?
When I was newer in business, I kind of dismissed business culture as nice to have… once we’ve sorted all this other more urgent stuff out. But I was mistaken.
Firstly business culture is HUGELY important and plays a far bigger part in your business than you might think. And secondly, understanding small business culture is not as complicated as I thought. (I’m sure there are people that would argue against this but for the sake of practicality, let’s go with the simplified version…)
Businesses With A Great Team Culture Get More Done
Anyone that’s started a business of their own knows that it’s a lot harder to get yourself to do things without a team around you. Most of us respond very well to the expectations people put on us to contribute to the team. We are all social animals and the feeling of “not wanting to let our team down” is often what gets us to do the hard things we need to do. (And let’s face it, it’s the hard things that make the difference! The easy things get done anyway.)
But even with a team, business culture can work in many ways – both positive and negative. In a positive team culture, people push each other just enough, support each other and enjoy working together. In a negative culture, there’s blaming, shaming, stress and very little enjoyment. A positive team culture brings out the best in everyone, while a negative culture brings out our worst. Think about the difference between you operating at your best and you operating at your worst. There’s a huge difference, right? That’s why positive team culture is so important – perhaps especially so for small businesses where each individuals’ contribution is more significant.
Team Culture Comes Down To Liking Each Other
In my simplified view of the world, a strong team culture comes down to people liking and respecting each other.
When people work with others they admire and value as friends, there’s a real magic that happens. Suddenly people rise to challenges, put in extra work, support each other, and of course, they also feel happier at work. Conversely, if the people we work alongside mean nothing to us, it’s difficult to be inspired by our work and we’ll often just do the minimum required.
So now that we know it’s as easy (and as hard!) as liking each other, we can start to think about small business culture in a more practical way.
How To Create A Strong Small Business Culture
In big businesses, the HR team has the luxury of thinking about this question, but in small businesses or startups, it likely comes down to you. So what can you do to create a great team culture in a small business?
1) Recruit The Right People
Wondering whether a candidate is a good fit for your business? Ask yourself whether you’d enjoy going out to dinner with them. Ask your team whether they’d enjoy going out for dinner with them. If it seems like this would be chore, keep looking.
You don’t need (or want) to be the same, but you do need to be able to communicate well enough and have enough common ground that you all enjoy spending time together.
A great team culture is much easier to achieve with the right people in place. (Don’t miss the top two interview questions here.)
2) Create Situations to Know Each Other
Even with the right people in place, you also need to foster an environment where it’s easy to get to know each other. Of course, for some people, this comes naturally and requires no work, but for many of us, the environment matter. Maybe it’s starting a regular meeting with a quick overview of everyone’s weekends. Maybe it’s taking turns to cook each other a dinner. Or maybe it’s organising events outside of work where your team can talk to each other on a different level. Depending on your team, and of course, your budget, dinners, drinks, picnics, sporting events, workshops, or even a strategic retreat can all be fantastic. (Also see our tips for building culture in a remote team here.)
3) Create Situations to Rely on Each Other
Even better than knowing each other well, is to trust each other. This is why so many organisations invest so much in seemingly kooky team building activities where people literally have to put their faith in each other (think rock climbing, etc.). These can be great, but you don’t necessarily need to go to those extremes. Instead, create cross-functional teams to get some projects done. This forces people to work together and come to rely on each other. Another way is to ask for ‘shout-outs’ in your meetings where team members are encouraged to highlight another team member’s work or results.
4) Focus On The Common Ground
Of course, people can be very different from each other and it can be sometimes hard to find enough in common to form friendships. However, there are some things that almost everyone has in common and these can be a great ‘leveler’. For instance, practically everyone eats dinner so you could have a question posted every afternoon (eg in Slack) which asks your team “what’s for dinner tonight?”. Or it could be “what are you watching/reading at the moment?”. Something as simple as this can get conversations started and find common ground between team members.
5) Create a Common Purpose
It’s one thing for everyone to be best-buddies, but it’s also important for that positive energy to be used in the right way. This is where a common purpose comes in.
Having a strong business vision is so important – both for the founder/s and team members (if you haven’t written yours yet, here’s some easy steps to create your business vision). But once you have a solid business vision, you need to find ways to bring it to life in your business as often as possible. Try to articulate your vision in a way that is meaningful to your team – something that they can get behind and get inspired about. Highlight how each role and project contributes to the overall vision, let the whole team know about the progress you’re making and the impact the business is having, and when making decisions, evaluate everything on how well it meets your vision.
6) Share Your Work
When people work in silos, they often don’t know what other teams are doing. They also don’t know how their work contributes to the greater purpose. The antidote to this is to encourage people to share their work. Some businesses do this with regular stand-up meetings where everyone shares what they’re working on at the moment. Some businesses change this around and get everyone to share their ‘wins’ and ‘challenges’ from the week. Still other businesses use update emails to capture what each team member is working on.
Whatever your method, the important thing is for everyone to see what everyone else is working on. This creates a much better sense of the bigger picture and also instils some ‘positive peer pressure’ for everyone to keep their output high.
What has your experience been with startup or small business culture? Let us know if you have any other tips to share.