“One of our values is that you should be looking out for each other. Everyone should try to make the lives of everyone else who works here a little bit simpler.”
– Stewart Butterfield, Canadian entrepreneur (co-founder, Flickr and Slack)
Hot, Buttered Toast
It was very early in the morning, and my first time facilitating training at a well-known international press company. A plush elevator with marble floors whisked me up to their South African HQ. I expected old-world-style decor, people talking in hushed voices, and thick, sound-deadening carpets.
Instead, the elevator door opened on to a bright, modern and vibrant reception area. It was the exact opposite of what I had expected. Not only did it look different, but it smelled different too. It smelled like hot, buttered toast!
One of the directors escorted me to the boardroom where I was going to work for the next three days. It was 45 minutes before the training was scheduled to start, yet almost everyone was already there. And they were eating hot, buttered toast!
I soon learned that it was part of the company culture that team members start their day with a cup of coffee and toast.
It wasn’t compulsory, and it took place before the official start of the day, but team members told me they hated missing that part of the day. They said it set the tone for their workday and it influenced their productivity.
What was especially interesting was that they didn’t “talk shop” at the “toast meetings” (as they called them). They just touched base with one another in a completely informal way, and everybody chatted to everybody.
Few Rules and Flexible Time
Over the course of the next few days, I had the privilege to observe a functioning, productive and winning culture. Although these people worked in a high-pressure environment where they had to keep track of the news cycle, financial market responses, financial indicators, market indices, and so on, things just seemed to flow.
They had almost no rules. Apart from the six busiest hours of the day (from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) they didn’t even have official working hours. It was common to see people sitting around coffee machines on beanbags while tapping away on their laptops or tablets.
Everybody was free to talk to everybody else regardless of their position, which meant that an intern could share her ideas with a director. And the head of operations thought nothing of refilling the team sugar bowl or washing someone else’s cup for them.
Building a Winning Culture
Described like this, it sounds extremely laid-back. Yet it’s one of the most productive workplaces I’ve ever seen.
Team members all helped a new person to fit in and showed them the ropes. They also gave a new person “toast duty” within his or her first few days, with an old hand helping out. It soon helped them to feel that they belonged, and that they were part of the “toast club.”
Needless to say, the organization has very low staff turnover. People are engaged and know that their workplace is a safe space. They treat visitors like one of their own and, overall, it’s just a happy place to be.
We discussed building a winning culture during our Twitter chat last Friday. Here are the questions we asked and some of the responses:
Q1. What does a “winning culture” mean? Who wins?
@LifeSpeak A winning culture is one in which everyone feels supported, encouraged, and appreciated. Employees who feel positively about their workplace and their colleagues are more engaged and perform better, so they win, their employer wins, and so do their customers.
@TheCraigKaye I feel a winning culture could be seen as the opposite of a “tick box culture.” One is set up to meet targets, and the other is set up to thrive.
Q2. What does a failing culture look like?
It’s not difficult to identify a failing culture, but different people saw different things:
@J_Stephens_CPA A failing culture is one of fear and inconsistent behavior.
@PG_pmp A failing culture might be one where people do not feel responsible, they take no ownership of any task, and so-called “leaders” create confusion in the environment.
@LernChance Everybody is just focusing on himself/herself. Every single individual is looking only for a personal win.
Q3. How do leaders or managers know whether their organization or team has a winning culture?
Somehow, Mondays often seem to play in a role in gauging how we feel about work…
@s_narmadhaa People will be excited about Mondays.
@Limha75 I think you know when people can independently define why you do what you do.
@ThiruHR: A team doesn’t mean working together. It’s all about trusting each other, and that reflects a winning culture.
Q4. What is it like for employees who work in a winning culture?
@TwisterKW Energizing! Working with comfort and ease; willing to try new things; reach new heights; feel confident, esteemed, and valued; wanting to come to work.
@CareerGoals360 Oh, when you work in a winning culture, you’ll know it! Employees will be able to better relate to their jobs, will have lower stress levels, and show up not because they have to, but because they want to contribute and add value and make a difference.
Q5. Is an organization’s true culture (winning or failing) visible to outsiders?
How satisfied your customers are is often a reflection of how happy your employees are. As we know, culture plays a huge role in how employees feel about their workplace.
@sittingpretty61 This leads me to think of companies with super customer service: when you get that representative who goes above and beyond what is necessary and they follow up on your concern. I think Verizon’s CX was excellent.
@SanabriaJav Yes, an organization’s reputation as an employer will be known within its industry, especially with mediums like Glassdoor around nowadays. People talk.
Q6. What effect does knowing about an organization’s culture have on outsiders, and how much does this matter?
We can spread a message to the whole world within hours through social media, so organizations should be mindful of the message they send about their culture.
@MissionHired I think it matters more to people who fall outside the “norm.” Underrepresented folks want to know as much about an organization as they can before they get in there. They want to know what they are potentially getting into, and how much of their true selves they can bring.
@idnorwood It depends on the outsider. a) Customers will change their purchasing behaviour. b) Suppliers alter willingness to trade with you. And c) the quality of potential employees changes.
Q7. What examples of a winning culture can you share with us, and what did you learn from them?
@BrainBlenderTec One of the best examples I’ve seen is Aria. They are through and through equal, from hiring wages to washrooms. There is absolutely no gender and it seeps into the outside lives and those around.
@Ganesh_Sabari One of my employers was not particular on employees’ time of entry/exit, they provided the freedom to make mistakes, but ensure not to repeat; and they were process driven. Result: if an employee is in office, one is engaged and committed.
Q8. How can you contribute to creating a winning culture?
The group feeling was that we should lead from where we are, and consciously create a positive atmosphere through our behavior.
@MicheleDD_MT Express appreciation for employee’s contributions, ideas, creativity, and extra effort.
@SaifuRizvi By creating culture of cooperation, respect and trust!
@NurseDee3 The contribution of authenticity and transparency is immeasurable.
Q9. What needs to be in place to maintain a winning culture?
@And0142 Executive-level commitment, regular team health check-ups, honest conversations, and embedded feedback channels.
@Yolande_MT Character and integrity of individuals and the organization at large. It’s difficult to build a winning culture on a corrupt or “corruptible” foundation.
Q10. What behaviors can a manager encourage and support to embody a winning culture in his or her team ?
@Singh_Vandana Communicating regularly and transparently is crucial. Where every person is a team member and has an important function to fulfill. Mutual respect and a culture of learning.
@Midgie_MT Showing positive support and regular feedback, getting team to reflect on how they are working, asking questions, encouraging innovation.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat, here.
A company’s culture has a huge influence on who gets promoted and who doesn’t. In a culture where alignment of values is important, a very competent person whose values are not in alignment with those of the company might be overlooked. Or, in a company where office politics play a big role, the boss’s buddy gets the promotion rather than the person who deserves it.
Have you ever been unfairly overlooked for a promotion? In our Twitter poll this week, we’d like to know why you think you were overlooked (regardless of what HR or your manager told you). Click here to see all the options and to cast your vote.
In the meantime, here are some resources relating to building a winning culture.
- David Rock’s SCARF Model
- Developing Your Team
- Deal and Kennedy’s Cultural Model
- The Competing Values Framework
- How to Build a Culture of Trust
- Understanding Workplace Values
- The Psychological Contract
- Helping People Flourish at Work
- Team Charters
- Overcoming Cultural Barriers to Change
- Handy’s Four Types of Culture