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10 Lessons on Developing Company Culture from Creating My Own Organization

Culture is important. People usually associate the idea of culture to different ethnicities or languages or religion. Rather, to think more generally, it’s simply a set of values. A set of values is necessary to how you carry yourself as an individual and how a company and its employees operate.

Along with the uprise of startups, you’ve probably heard a lot about company culture. Offices with modern minimal furniture, pool tables, free catered lunch everyday and rooftop basketball courts.

I’m going to focus on the culture of values for a company and for your career.

A few months ago, a friend introduced me to audiobooks.

The first audiobook I listened to was Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends & Influence People, which further polished how I interact with everyone.

The result of what I learned from Mr. Carnegie was exemplified through working with my team at The UP Lab.

Culture was an implied aspect of the team. Since I led the team, I assumed that team culture would be communicated through how I, as the “leader” acted. I now realize that wasn’t a good idea.

Culture should be clearly communicated and discussed with the team. Everyone should be on the same page.

Although it wasn’t explicit discussed, the culture I had hoped for, did indeed develop.

For an organization to grow, you need happy team members (I’ve learned that there’s more to growing an organization). To have happy team members, you need to create a space where everyone is respected and encouraged to grow.

Here are the values we worked by:

  • Be kind. A team member might not be focused during a meeting because she’s been having a bad day. Or she’s just tired. Whatever the case, it’s not about calling people out. It’s about understanding. When you’re kind, you open up channels for discussion and improvement. You develop trust and you can connect through more than just being teammates.
  • Hear each other out. If you pitch an idea, be open to feedback without getting defensive. Defense is not conducive to growth. If a teammate isn’t meeting deadlines, listen to what problems he might be having. It’s not about being right or wrong. If someone’s having a bad day, take the time to hear him out. It’s not about giving advice or what you think he should do. It’s about understanding.
  • Be honest and transparent. If you mess up, tell someone. Don’t hide it. That leads to more issues. If you have concerns or disagree with something, communicate it. It might not have crossed the team’s mind. You might’ve caught a huge problem before it happened. When you’re kind and hear each other out, it’s easier for everyone to be honest and transparent without fear of criticism.
  • Take action. How far you get in life depends on how much initiative you take. Whether it be leading up a project or communicating that you’d like to contribute an article to the blog. When you take initiative, you help improve the organization and you give the team more opportunities to give you feedback. Focus on getting shit done and you’ll grow exponentially. The rest of the team will follow (even if you aren’t the “leader”).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can’t do everything on your own. You might have too much on your plate or you might not be able to focus because you’re really stressed out. Whatever the case, ask for help. The team is there to back you up. No one is competing to be better. Realize that everyone is working toward the same goal.
  • Give props. We all like compliments. It’s even better when you’re complimented on a project you’ve worked on and stressed about and finally finished. Recognition is nice. It makes you want to work harder and keep doing great work. Likewise, never be hesitant to give credit to others where you see fit.
  • Stay positive. Life gets difficult. Everyone gets stressed out. You will have moments of doubt and uncertainty with anything you’re doing. That’s fine. If you never doubted yourself, you’re a liar. Even the most successful people doubt themselves. As long as you stay positive that things will work out. It’s easier to work through hardships when you’re positive. Just don’t expect things to work out on their own.
  • Set high expectations for yourself. If you aren’t pushing yourself to grow, then you probably aren’t pushing to help the organization. Do things that make you uncomfortable. If you aren’t scared of the next step, you’re not growing. When you improve, you set the tone for the rest of the team to also strive for their best. You gain more confidence and you realize that you’re capable of doing more than you thought.
  • Stay humble. When you work on a project, you’re going to talk to people about it. You’ll get praise from friends and teammates. Don’t get lost in that praise. Don’t be content with praise. Keep your ego in check and continue to strive for more.

This last one is for me.

  • Praise in public. Punish in private. This pulls straight from Mr. Carnegie. When you praise in public the wonderful feelings are multiplied. When the person’s work is given credibility by a leader, the rest of the team acknowledges it as well. I don’t like the word punish, but I strive to resolve conflicts one-on-one. No one needs to lose face. No one needs to be wrong. No one needs to be embarrassed in front of the team. It’s never necessary. I’ll admit that I used to be bad at this, and I’ve slipped up a few times recently. But I’m getting better.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but by working with these values in mind, we created an environment for open communication and productivity.