Two days ago, I had a really interesting conversation with a colleague of mine about company culture, and it got me thinking.
The discussion started with him asking me a question- “Do you think that all companies are like ours?” He was referring to the internal relationship that the employees here at Network Depot have with one another. Not to pull the curtain completely aside, I will let you know (for the sake of this blog post) that the internal company culture at Network Depot is one that is a great mixture of fun and productivity. We all work hard here, and we also like to have fun and joke around with one another.
I answered his question very simply- “Yes.” But the truth is, whenever you are talking about company cultures, it is rarely simple.
In my opinion, there are two main cultures that exist within an organization. There is the one where you are presenting yourself and your company to clients, prospects, other companies, partners, vendors, etc.- basically anyone or any company that is not part of your own company team. Let’s call that the “on-stage” culture. And, you have the culture that exists strictly within the boundaries of your team. Let’s call this one the “behind-the-scenes” culture. Both of these cultures are incredibly important. Each one influences the other, and without both of them being well-developed and nurtured, the company is going to experience problems.
This culture is very important, for obvious reasons. This is how you are presenting yourself and your company to the outside world. This is how other people will see you. This culture will determine how they talk about you to other businesses. Therefore, it is important that this culture be professional and accessible. You want to show everyone that your company is one that understands what it means to be a professional business, and that you also understand the need to be open, friendly, and caring.
This culture is displayed in every single interaction every member of your company has with anyone- from the way the sales people talk to prospects, to the way your service teams interacts with clients. Even the people answering the phone or the greeting you give to the person who drops off the mail every day. If all of those interactions contain respect, politeness, friendliness, and a genuine caring about what is happening, then that culture of professionalism and accessibility will develop naturally.
This culture is equally important because it defines how the members of your company interact with each other. But it can be harder to define and shape. Let’s take a step back and think about this- as adults, we spend more time working than doing anything else (perhaps a little depressing, but true). Since the majority of our time is spent in the workplace, we are going to spend more time interacting with our colleagues than with anyone else.
So, what does that mean for the internal culture of a company? Well, in my opinion, it means there needs to be a combination of a few different elements. First, you need an environment where people feel comfortable with one another. They need to have the space to figure out and define their own interpersonal relationships- they need to figure out how to work together. Second, you need an environment where people can feel comfortable enjoying themselves. If there is no room for employees to joke around and blow off a little steam every now and then, your team members will quickly get burnt out, and you are going to see a really high turnover rate. And third, you need an environment where people know it is still a professional workplace.
Number three might seem a contradictory, but I don’t believe it is. I think that when you create a strong a internal culture, it is going to be filled with people who understand the basic level of respect and consideration that is needed, especially within an office environment, but they will also find enjoyment in interacting and having fun with their colleagues. The truth is, even though we spend more time at work than outside of it, that doesn’t mean our closest relationships are going to be with our team members. More than likely, our closest relationships will be ones we have outside of work- family and close friends. So, that means that while our work relationships might be frequent, there always needs to be that line of understanding that we are always in a professional workplace.
These two company cultures are going to define your business. If you have an internal culture where people are too comfortable and don’t maintain a basic level of professionalism, it will trickle to your “on-stage” culture and your relationships with your clients and prospects will suffer. Likewise, if you have a culture that is too strict and doesn’t allow people to relax, they are going to get too burnt-out and the relationships not only will suffer externally, but internally as well.
Culture is the defining aspect of a company, and it is a delicate balance and a daily battle. There is no “right way” to build a culture (although there may be a few wrong ways), so just make sure that you are paying attention to your team members, both on-stage and behind-the-scenes. Work with them, not against them, and you will all have a hand in creating a company that has a culture you can all be proud of.