16 Elements and Aspects of Amazing Cultures

There are aspects and elements which bring life to a community or organization that go deeper than ping-pong tables and beer kegs on Fridays. 

As Hubspot’s culture code aptly notes: “Culture happens. Whether planned or not, all companies have cultures."

There are habits and nuances which, when cultivated with intention, create space for good things to run wild. We have a responsibility to take ownership of the environment in which we work. After all, most of us spend the bulk of our time at work and are inevitably, to some degree, a product of said work environment. Why not craft an environment that helps humans flourish and edifies all who come into its airspace? 

Here is a shortlist of things an organization can work on to cultivate a positive team culture full of life and growth:

  • Safety—culture of vulnerability and trust. A place with "clean air, not just to breath, but to speak into,” as Seth Godin would say.
  • Cleanliness (relates to safety and a general care for aesthetics and humans).
  • Leaders who cast a clear vision, giving employees a common purpose and goal to rally around. Ambiguity or complexity of direction and how each individuals connects to and owns their role results in paralysis, boredom, and ambivalence.
  • Leadership and peers intentionally help each other re-connect with the “Why” of the organization, and allow them to see and celebrate the mission at work. This is best achieved during moments which break routine, allowing employees to step out from within the trees, and see the whole forest.
  • Over-communication of organizational values and mission. Jonathan Rosenberg's first rule of leadership: Be a broken record. “When you think you’ve communicated something too much, you’re probably just beginning to get through.”
  • Recognition both publicly and privately. This results in employee loyalty and raving fanhood from the people on your team, many of whom have the most contact with your customers on their journey towards raving fanhood as well.
  • A culture of expectation, optimism, and hope that good things are afoot.
  • Coffee and a solid snack spread. They just make days better. Team food truck outings are highly recommended, too.
  • Certainty of how each department or projects’ business function relates to the others in achieving the organization's goals, and advancing the common good.
  • The organization values professional development and individual growth opportunities for it’s humans. It provides channels, opportunities and permission for them to become not just ‘what’ they desire to become, but ‘who’ we desire to become.
  • Feedback loops and contact points which affirm that the work people are doing is in line with the ultimate direction, and gives guidance when it’s not.
  • Margin for serendipity and structured spontaneity.
  • A place free from harsh sarcasm and gossip. Nothing erodes a culture of trust and vulnerability and people working from their most genuine selves faster than these two cancers.
  • A place of “information symmetry" and transparency. Without these, optimism and goodness are undermined and the sense of team often becomes fractured.
  • A sense of equity and that we’re all in this together, pulling equal weight. This often results in a strong sense of organizational trust.
  • Structures, processes, and organizational discipline which create space for people to do their best work.

Sometimes when these things are absent we notice right away. Yet, other times (read: more often) the absence or atrophy of these things is a slow decay and erosion of a positive and edifying organizational culture. Business culture, both internally- and outwardly-focused, seem to parallel gardening in many ways in this respect. A beautiful, vibrant, and flourishing garden is generally a result of much attention sowing, weeding, watering, cultivating, pruning, and tending.