Want a Strong Company Culture? Define It

A company culture is typically defined as an organizational set of shared ideas, values, beliefs and behaviors within an organization. A work culture influences people in both big and small ways — everything from clothing choices to meeting styles to the systems for getting work done.

While this definition seems fairly straightforward, it’s recently taken on more complex understandings and practicalities in work spaces. Now, offices must consider all aspects of human thinking and creative needs, designing and building out spaces and offering benefits best suited for churning out innovative ideas and behaviors.

This new perception of work culture now factors into how we see a company’s success (no matter how much money you’re making your investors, if you’re employees are miserable, it’s just bad business) and its outside appeal. Some companies like Zappos, Google and REI draw new recruits in just based off of their famed cultures. And studies have shown that flexible work cultures and ones that value further development of their employees’ talents are especially appealing to Millennials. But while we’re all familiar with free lunches, in-office yoga and “unlimited” vacation time, what’s really at the base of a company culture that will make it strong?

Turns out, for a company culture to have the most chance of success, it doesn’t really matter what perks you’re offering. What really determines whether a culture will thrive is how well it’s defined. If everyone feels they’re operating under different, or even competing goals, it can cause conflict and distort expectations. In fact, having a strong company culture is so important, that according to Fast Company, even having a negative company culture can be better than having no company culture at all; at the very least, it provides employees with a structure, and set of values and expectations from which to operate. We’re certainly not advocating for a toxic work culture for anyone, but the fact is, even knowing what you’re working against can help you make something better.

And while there is proof that positive work cultures make people more productive, what employees really want is a sense of consistency and the ability to be part of a work community, where they can contribute to ideas and solutions. In fact, a little push can be just what a business needs. A little candor on everyone’s part, and even some healthy conflict, can start a conversation, get people actively thinking, talking and ruminating on ideas.

So, if your culture isn’t clearly defined, maybe it’s time to sit down and recap your essential principles and define it. Or better yet, invite your team to contribute. By including their input, you may be taking the first step to fostering the strong, community-oriented culture that draws people in and keeps them engaged.


Don’t Fear Conflict. Work Through It!

Your workday was going fine. The pitch went well, you just delivered your latest project (and on time!), and then suddenly, a coworker wants to “have a word” about a grievance. Suddenly, your day has been upended, and with just a few words, your heart is racing and your stomach is turning. You’ve just been faced with conflict in the workplace.

Negatively processing and reacting to conflict is bad for us. Aside from the immediate “fight or flight” response your body experiences, ongoing conflict elicits large amounts of stress in our bodies and can have a lasting impact on our memory, mood and even lifespans. Studies have shown the toll of the stress from conflict on our bodies can even lead to increased work-related injuries.

So, what can we do to minimize the negative impacts of workplace conflict on ourselves and those we’re interacting with? According to the Harvard Business Review, choosing your words carefully is the best start. When emotions are high, we often don’t take time to carefully consider what we’re saying to the other person, or how we’re coming across, which can further escalate the situation. Another issue is that in our rush to get our point across and convince the other party why we’re in the right, we fail to actively listen to them, thereby shutting ourselves off from a potential resolution and further aggravating the situation. Here are six more do’s and don’ts for dealing with workplace conflict.

Don’t rush. Take a breath. Take a walk. Take your time to respond to that email. Even if you have to excuse yourself for a few minutes, do not push yourself into a response before you’re fully calm. When things are tense, the wrong response could make them worse.

Do listen without interrupting. This could be difficult, especially when you feel you’re the wronged party, but it’s imperative to moving forward that both sides feel they’ve had a proper chance to express themselves.

Don’t focus on a winner. It’s a win-or-lose mentality that gets people into conflict in the first place. By letting go of the need to be the victor, and instead focusing on a resolution, you can shift the focus to healing the matter together.

Do accept responsibility. Also in Harvard Business Review, leadership author and Harvard Business professor Linda Hill, advises not to act like there’s only one point of view. “You need to own your perception. Start sentences with ‘I’ not ‘you,’” she explains.

Don’t fear conflict. It’s inevitable in any workplace, or in life. And if you’re in a leadership position, it’s just part of your job. By ignoring the situation, you’ll only make it worse. So, take a deep breath, relax your muscles and try to focus on a solution.

No one says it’ll be fun or easy, but properly dealing with conflict is mental strength training for all of us.