Have you ever met a Chief Culture Instigator, a Minister of Fun, or resident Vibe Monitor? Maybe the Head of the Culture Committee, or the VP of Happiness? If any of these titles sound familiar, you’ve probably also worked at companies that don’t quite have the resources for an official culture or HR leader to join the staff but understand the benefits of having one.
These volunteers are commonly co-founders, early stage employees, or just fun folks around the office who raise their hand to take on a very important 20 percent role: shaping and promoting culture at their growing company.
With 86 percent of modern employees not afraid to job hop, building up a positive culture is crucial for keeping your developing top talent satisfied and thriving. But sometimes you just don’t have the time or energy available to take on such a big task. Help is on the way.
I sat down with a few self-made culture leaders at growing companies across the US to share some of their best practices and ideas for easily promoting a healthy culture, regardless of your shape or size.
1. Musical chairs
Who you work with and where you sit in an office can play a major role in relationship building and overall positive culture.
At Five by Five, a growing UK-based agency, Executive Creative Director Tommy Perez shares a unique concept that has helped keep teammates on their toes while rapidly boosting workplace communication efficiency. Everyone on the team works in shared rooms, with rolling file cabinets and chairs.
No one's seat is permanent.
The idea is to trade spaces regularly — this opens collaboration and streamlines sharing of work and communication. Employees move around as the creative process evolves, sitting in proximity to the teammates they’re currently partnering with in the strategy, design, copy, or production stage. Perez explained why this has been such a successful strategy:
The non-traditional desk assignments have been a really good success. It’s helped create more chemistry and new relationships—more junior staff are more exposed to senior, and are becoming comfortable approaching leaders with their opinions.
We’re seeing the desk arrangements break down borders and barriers to help conversation flow, especially when navigating tough questions and client feedback.
2. Getting your dollar's worth
Five by Five has 100 employees across four offices (land and sea), so communication and culture can become equally stretched out. In order to promote creativity and a culture of fun, they recently rolled out the Dollar General Pitch.
Creative teams go out and buy $50 of random stuff from a dollar store and assign the items across small groups of teams. Biweekly, the company comes together over Skype and competing teams will have three minutes to give their product elevator pitch. Judging teammates will raise their hands if they want to hear more (like NBC's "The Voice"), or as Heidi Klum would famously say, “You’re out.”
The event has been incredibly well-attended and helped to bond the teams, as well as keep those healthy creative juices flowing.
3. Taking home a decent prize
While weekly team lunches seem like a great idea, it can be hard to maintain attendance with busy schedules. Clare Wylie, Service Operations Manager at Lyra Health shares a practice from her past company, Better Health: the “Decent” Prize.
Better Health would host catered lunches every Thursday with the goal of opening up cross-functional conversation, and to celebrate the accomplishments of the team. An employee would be selected to bring in the “decent” prize of the week (maybe a vintage t-shirt, a funny coffee mug, a random figurine or old DVD), and in turn, that employee would also get to award that week’s prize.
Interestingly, the achievements recognized weren’t always job-related. One of Clare’s favorite examples was an engineer who helped clean up the kitchen late at night (and got recognized by the office manager) for doing something above and beyond that helped the company.
Better’s CEO was very supportive and involved, making his own attendance at Thursday lunch a priority, which helped encourage company participation and excitement for the culture initiative.
No matter how creative the idea is, leadership needs to support culture initiatives in order for them to survive.
4. Coffee's on me
It can be intimidating to start a new job and feel forced to make the networking rounds, or entering into a series of pre-scheduled 20 minute one-on-ones that feel rushed and impersonal.
As if your first week isn’t stressful enough.
Lyra Health has instituted a simple but effective culture program for smoothing out the onboarding process. New employees are given a gift card to a local coffee shop, loaded with enough funds for a few rounds.
New employees are encouraged to invite cross-functional team mates out for coffee on the card — it helps make time for out of office interaction and non-distracted conversation, and doesn’t put the financial stress on the employees. They’ll have the ability to meet four to five new faces before the card runs out.
5. What's your favorite dish?
Teresa Ou, Head of Business Operations at Lyra Health, encourages her teammates to host rotating dinners out, where employees introduce their coworkers to their favorite dish or restaurant.
We like to celebrate the personality of our team and the person who may be planning the event — the events really help to humanize the people you’re working with.
Kingdom of Dumpling for family-style dim sum was a recent favorite (and a must-try for anyone’s next San Francisco visit).
6. You're number one
“We really care about our employees, their happiness and well-being is really important,” Ou explained. Another great idea from Teresa: this past holiday party the team handed out custom coffee mugs personalized for all employees with their employee number. Not only did this streamline break room clean-up, it helped to create a special bond across the early-stage team and still serves as a badge of honor.
7. Offering a helping hand
Volunteering is a great way to get teammates out of the office and rallying behind a shared cause related to your neighborhood community, or one that aligns with the company’s mission.
At Lyra, they rolled out their first annual Volunteer Day to help celebrate their one year anniversary, supporting their partner local outpatient center for children and families, Edgewood San Francisco.
8. Shall we capoeira?
At Blueboard, we build culture through monthly team outings.
Not only do we get to field test incredible experiences, we also rotate planning ownership — helping to spread out the workload, and even better, giving each teammate the ability to plan something unique and reflective of their personality and interests.
A crafty teammate planned a block print-making class, another planned a Brazilian Capoeira class. And team events don’t have to be costly, while we do budget for $50-100/person, some of our favorites have been more low-key outings like a company movie night or rocking out at a karaoke room.
So let’s put some of these into action! Feel free to tweet your favorites or new ideas for strengthening culture to @bonusly and @blueboard on Twitter. And if you’re looking for more ideas on how to build culture through experiential employee rewards, explore some of ours here.
Want to keep reading about engagement and company culture? Check out this resource: