Memo to leaders building company culture: Give employees a voice - Baltimore

Professional Development

Aug. 29, 2019 6:13 pm

Memo to leaders building company culture: Give employees a voice

In which Baltimore tech and entrepreneurship leaders discuss the importance of openness, empathy and flexibility in building company culture. Baltimore’s stakeholder meeting at Allovue on Aug. 8, 2019. Baltimore's stakeholder meeting at Allovue on Aug. 8, 2019.

(Photo by Stephen Babcock)

The teams and companies that are being built in Baltimore have differing missions to fulfill and products to create. When it comes to the unique cultures that are building and growing inside each, however, it’s the people who point the way.

Whether at a fledgling startup or a big corporation, it holds true that the employees have to figure out to work together, and drive toward the goals they’re looking to accomplish.

So with a diverse group of tech and entrepreneurship leaders assembled inside Allovue’s offices at our recent Baltimore stakeholder meeting ahead of Super Meetup, we asked about what local organizations have learned about building teams, and workplace culture.

It’s an area where company leaders have plenty of strategies to explore, bringing a conversation where beanbag chairs (pro tip: If you’re adding them to the office, create space and time that employees to sit in them) were mentioned alongside the shifts in office technology. But ultimately, as ETC President Deb Tillett put it, leadership’s role is most influential when it comes to people, not necessarily policy and perks.

“As a leader, if you don’t empower every employee from clerical to the top [to] have an opinion, [to] have a voice, then you’ll never get anywhere,” said Tillett, who leads the city-backed tech incubator.

When it comes to bringing teams together, Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore COO Sharon Markley Schreiber identified shared values as a way to focus both mission and team dynamics, and Backroom founder and CEO Kara Redman said that culture grows out of “being in the trenches, working hard together and relying on each other,” as well as a mutual respect. (Redman talked more about Backroom’s culture in an interview with earlier this month).

Empathy was a key word for Colette Colclough, the VP of human resources at Maryland Public Television and founder of the Women’s Leadership Forum. She stressed the importance of being “open to listening and understanding someone else, what they value and how does that fit into their culture.” In a workplace made up of different age groups and backgrounds, it’s important to understand who you’ve hired and how they mesh into your culture, she said.


“What’s happening to someone in their home and how they bring that now into the workspace has become huge and important,” Colclough said. “For some, there is no work-life balance. For others there has to be a work-life balance.”

To Allovue Communications Manager Jessica Garrett, it was a balance to consider: “Where does a door open to welcome an employee and where does an employee have to adapt to a culture that’s already been created before they arrived?”

At a startup, building from the ground up comes with territory. So each new person that joins a small team can mark a serious percentage growth to the organization, and that growth’s impact on the culture can become especially important.

“Each new person you bring in changes the balance of an organization, and that’s a really remarkable place to be,” said Rose Burt, content and digital marketing manager at Canton software development consultancy SmartLogic.

Given the change that takes place constantly, building trust and open communication is important, she said.

“If you aren’t open to hearing that something’s not working, then people aren’t going to tell you,” Burt said. To follow through, having a flexibility and willingness to change will help those things get fixed.


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