Build Culture At Work


Most entrepreneurs and business folks in general regard the core focus of a business to be the creation of a specific product or service. I disagree. The core focus of a business ought to be to create a culture that is conducive to creative people… who then create specific products and services. The reason this is the better way to go is manifold. It certainly makes for a happier, flourishing team and by extension more satisfied customers. It also enables a company to produce a whole series of successful products and services and thus create enduring value. 

The fact that so many companies focus on products and services rather than people and customers is apparent in the fact that a good ⅔ of our employees are disengaged at work. They basically can’t wait to get home in the evening. This is to a large extent due to the way management treats their teams. I think its safe to guess that no one likes to be used as a means to an end. But that is exactly what we are doing to our employees when we see them simply as a way to get our products “produced” or our services “delivered.” Think about it, that’s how we use a machine… but not a human person. 

So if I want to focus on creating a positive, person centered culture in my company, how do I go about that? In The Art of Principled Entrepreneurship, I explain how to explore your core values that will help you define the culture you want to create in the first place. But no matter what those core values are, here are a few ideas of how to start your culture-building at work. They don’t have to be very complicated or even costly. The key is to make them sincere efforts to put the individual employee at the center of what we do. 

Go on a local city tour with your team – be a tourist in your own city! Or engage in another, non-business activity together. This helps us see common things in new ways, which is the training ground for seeing others as unique individuals. Some ideas:

  • I recently rented some scooters with a part of my team and I felt the experience was a kind of watershed event that allowed us to have fun together and create a common experience and bond.
  • Go to a museum together. We did that with a group recently and hired a really good guide who explained all the artwork to us. Being treated as a group in this way helped us “gel” and we also discovered many common interests and the appreciation of beauty.
  • We used to have a picnic with one of my company teams. I describe in the book how Art Ciocca did that with the grape harvesters at The Wine Group. They had an outdoor potluck dinner with music and dancing. The event allowed everyone to celebrate together and that created the kind of unity that makes TWG such a unique company. 
  • A friend of mine and his company adopted a portion of a local hiking/walking trail. They go out together to clean it up once or twice a month. This has become a tremendous unifier in that team and everyone looks forward to it. Friendships and understanding have developed across managerial lines and departments. 
  • Another friend goes to serve meals at a homeless shelter every month or two with his team. This common experience of helping someone else, of taking the center of concern beyond our daily work has given that team the kind of perspective and cohesion that other companies can only envy.

All this to say that culture building with “external” events doesn’t have to involve flying the team to a resort or otherwise spending lots of money. In fact, the simpler it is and the more it focuses on a common experience the better. A one day, even half-day event is often enough to get the ball rolling. The trick is to keep it going!

There are of course also very important “internal” efforts to build culture… but that’s for another time.

I hope you enjoyed this newsletter. Please let me know about your own “external” culture forming events you have.

Thanks for reading – I look forward to hearing about your culture forming experiences!