One of the admitted reasons people join startups is because of the opportunity to build something meaningful in a short period of time, while being immersed in a fast-paced environment that requires on-your-feet thinking; in other words, to experience fast growth.
This passion for fast growth is usually paired with a desire to be a part of a strong company culture that values, empowers and delights employees, while living and breathing that “work hard, play hard” mentality.
Many startups work tirelessly to transform their workplace into something more than just an office. They aspire to create a welcoming environment that motivates employees, fosters creativity and encourages team spirit. Hosting weekly gratitude circles, happy hours, company retreats, or volunteer workshops are great ways of attracting and retaining talent.
Establishing a robust company culture is fairly easy with a small team – when you’re in a cramped office, you’re bound to interact with everyone on a daily basis – so that automatically leads to team bonding. However, at an early stage company, time, money and resources are normally directed to growth and day-to-day operations and not to developing and maintaining company culture.
As the company grows, the culture is bound to change. The resources that were once missing are now available, but scaling culture becomes increasingly harder with more employees. There are more opinions, more preferences and more personalities than ever before and what worked for a small team may not work any longer.
How can we face these culture changes with positivity, making sure employees are comfortable and excited about them? We’ve asked ourselves the same question and found a couple of solutions:
Give your team a platform to speak their mind
Offer a time and place where team members can express their opinions freely. It’ll help pin-point if there are any aspects of your culture the team isn’t pleased with anymore and it’ll remind them that the company genuinely values their opinion.
Some of the tools we use at Chewse to take in feedback are a monthly Q&A with our founders, a monthly company happiness survey, a structured set of private office hours where employees can share their thoughts and questions in a more private environment, and monthly reflections between each manager and employee to discuss performance, feelings and culture.
Startups grow and they grow fast. Often times, a 10 person company becomes a 50 person company basically overnight, which makes it harder to organize an outing or retreat for the entire workforce. If you decide to discontinue or cut back on a certain activity, make sure your team understands the reasons behind that decision and try to find a suitable substitute for it.
One of our favorite Chewse traditions were our weekly themed dinners. But once we grew past 25 employees, it became really hard for a single person to host and cook for that many people. So we decided to evolve the tradition to 3 monthly happy hours (with a hosting duo) and 1 monthly dinner (hosted by a full team). Before making the shift, we had a company wide conversation about the importance of evolving our culture and our traditions – allowing the team to get behind the new format.
Find long-term solutions
Big or small, change is hard! Think long-term so you won’t have to make too many changes along the way. This might mean making a change right now that feels bigger than necessary, but leaving room to grow gives time to embrace and love those changes. It’s just like outgrowing your favorite sweatshirt when you were a kid: you had to get a new one! But getting one an extra size up gave you plenty of time to grow into it without having to replace it in just a few months.
Need ideas? Poll employees on what elements of your culture rituals they love. Is it the community building? Getting out of the office? Giving back to the community? Showing gratitude? Use resources like Org Org to see what teams a few stages ahead of yours are doing for some inspiration. Build new programs that retain the core elements of your sacred culture events that can scale with your team. Maybe your weekly team brunch can become and epic quarterly day-long shindig!
Some culture aspects get better with time
Remember when you couldn’t afford regular company lunches or hosting a team retreat? Culture changes at a growing company sometimes yield great results that make everyone happier. When we were just 12 employees, our company retreat was a tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere. Nine months later, our retreat was an epic Series-A Celebration!
Also, hiring more people means new personalities and more to contribute to the culture! As you hire new employees, find out what they’re passionate about. One of our most recent hires, Max, is a super star poker player and because of that we just had our first ever company Casino night. Remember, growing your culture doesn’t have to feel like you’re gambling with employee happiness
Want to hear more about balancing culture and results at our ever-expanding company? Read this insightful Medium post from our fearless leader Tracy Lawrence.