Professional Development

6 tips for building a company culture worth joining

These Delaware entrepreneurs have some excellent advice.

Developing company culture is about more than just sticking a foosball table in the office.

(Photo by Flickr user Sean Hagen, used under a Creative Commons license)

Everyone wants a stellar company culture, but it’s important to remember that having one goes well beyond foosball tables and gourmet dining and nap rooms.
Don’t take our word for it: Here’s the wisdom from some of Delaware’s leading entrepreneurs about how to create the best culture for your startup.

1. Bring some fire.

In a good way, of course. Delaware Sports League cofounder Bob Downing says passion is paramount: “The key to culture is everyone has to believe in the dream,” he said. “If everyone believes, then the dream is real.”

2. Be a leader.

Wilmington architect and The Mill mastermind Robert Herrera remembers a time when he was tasked with managing a large team and dozens of outside engineers and consultants. He was too green for the job and hadn’t figured out how to lead well. “The team culture was miserable, and the results reflected that,” he said. “I failed epically, but it was one of the best learning experiences of my life. What I took away from it was that a confident leader understands that all solutions and ideas do not have to be their own.”
Greg Shelton, chief marketing officer at Digital-Vikings, said that when you expand your company — whether by two or 20 people — look for leaders. “You have to make sure it’s a team that’s not a lot of followers,” he said. Shelton also advised being open-minded enough to hire people who bring different perspectives to the table. Leading well and grooming your team to lead well will only boost your business, he said.
So how do you lead? Ryan Harrington, a manager at the Wilmington coworking space 1313 Innovation, says the best way is to lead is by example, like working tirelessly, being collaborative and holding high expectations. “Regardless of your position in your organization, be the person who does those things,” he said.


3. Let your employees be themselves.

“If you want the best from people, you have to allow them to be the best,” said John Himics, cofounder of the web design and development company First Ascent Design. “Set up your requirements and guidelines, but then step back and let them do their job, flex their creativity, and always allow and encourage feedback. Invite them to help you make your business better.”
Greg Shelton holds similar views, saying if people are stifled in the workplace, they’ll get bored and uncomfortable. Teammates being themselves keeps things fresh and interesting, he said. “That pushes confidence and leadership.”

4. Build relationships with your team, or at the very least, understanding.

Relationship-building within companies is too-often overlooked, said Bob Downing. “In most cases, the more opportunities you provide for quality conversations to occur, the deeper the commitment to one another your team will feel.” He added that having teammates who care about each other is a strong retention tool.
Harrington said there’s value in learning about your co-workers. “What makes them tick? What are signs they might be having a tough day? What are things you can do to help them out of those slumps?”
Herrera pointed out that managers’ likes and dislikes often don’t align with those of their employees. (Think Michael Scott from The Office.) “There is nothing worse than an ill-planned, hokey event that just feels too forced — particularly in a corporate environment,” he said. “Managers and team leaders need to genuinely try to understand their teams before making assumptions on their behalf.”

5. Never underestimate communication and transparency.

Over-communication always trumps under-communication.
Communication is a skill to be honed in the workplace, Herrera said. “It is a trait that 90 percent of professionals probably assume they do well. My guesstimate is that 5 percent actually communicate the right way with their teams.”
Shelton is also a proponent of transparency for a healthy company culture, saying that people will believe in the company when they know what’s going on. “You have to make things transparent,” Shelton said, “to understand how to succeed and where you’re going.”

6. Have fun.

Take a leaf from the folks at The Fun Dept., who have made bringing fun to others’ workplaces their entire business.
All the research shows that the most productive companies have the concept of fun as a key part of their culture, said Nat Measley, the CEO and Master of Fun at The Fun Dept.
“Companies that are reporting a culture of fun are reporting top high revenues, net profits and margins,” he said, pointing out that happier, healthier employees take less time off and are more productive both individually and on teams.
A challenge with planning fun activities is, as Herrera mentioned, not everyone has the same idea of what’s fun. To solve that, Measley recommended planning supplemental activities for people who, say, aren’t comfortable ice skating at a company ice-skating shindig.
Incorporating fun into the culture is also a key way of looking at the concept: “It’s not just, ‘We’ve built this (company) and now let’s put fun on top of it,” Measley said. “Sometimes fun can drive culture itself.”

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