What really matters to employees

Why Your Company’s Culture Doesn’t Matter

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” (attributed to Peter Drucker)
“Culture might eat strategy for breakfast, but teams make or break your culture”  (me)

Your company’s culture is one of the most critical things that sets your company apart from its competitors. Business books, articles, and thought leaders have been spouting the importance of building a strong and robust culture for over 20 years.  There are yearly rankings of which company is best to work for based on their culture (Forbes – 2020 Best Companies to Work For and Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work for), and there are even companies that specialize in helping you find the right company to work for (Glassdoor and Great Places to Work). 

People care about the culture of their organization, especially in startups / scaleups.  At least that’s what we keep telling ourselves.  My startup can’t compete with larger companies when it comes to “perks”.  We can’t afford dry cleaning, on-site daycare, or a fancy office.  But we do have a great “culture”!  So that’s how we will attract and retain people.  

Unfortunately for most startups / scaleups, the importance of culture and perks are both dramatically overblown.  No one is joining your company because of how your website describes your culture.  Nor will people stay in a company just because they have amazing benefits.  The truth is far simpler.  People care more about their team and team leader than they do about their company, its culture, and any perks they receive.

Company Culture Doesn’t Matter.  Team Health Does

Team Quality Matter More Than Culture

If we really thought about it, we shouldn’t be all that surprised that the quality of teams and team leaders are more impactful than the culture of the company.  Most of us are a part of multiple teams at work.  For large companies (above 150 people) 82% of employees work on teams, and 72% work on multiple teams.  Even small companies (under 20 employees) are built around teams; 68% of employees work on teams and 49% work on multiple teams.  Gone are the days of the individual working alone in their office.

In startups and scaleups, the majority of work is built around teams and collaboration, and our happiness and engagement is shaped by these interactions.  While I really appreciate my company’s lunch offering and our decadent beer fridge, the interactions I have with my colleagues are what make or break my day.  On the flip side, I have also quit 2 jobs in companies I really liked because I hated my manager.

No matter how good the company culture is, if someone really dislikes the people they work with then chances are they are probably disengaged.  For example, team members who said that they did not trust their team leader were twelve times more likely to be completely disengaged from work.  And once someone starts feeling disengaged, they are significantly more likely to leave.  Teams that have low engagement levels have attrition rates 45% higher than engaged teams.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that people don’t want to stick around people they dislike and in a role that is demotivating.

Company Culture Doesn’t Matter.  Team Health Does

How to Measure Team Quality

Hopefully by now you are recognizing the importance of teams and team leaders, but you are probably asking yourself how you can assess whether your team is good or not. Truth be told there are many different models of high performing teams.  I know I personally believe a lot in the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Strengths Based Leadership, and also the Forming, Storming, Norming, & Performing stages of team development.  While there are some differences, there are some common themes on what makes a high performing team.

  • Purpose – The best teams see how their work connects to a broader purpose and can see the larger context of their efforts.
  • Excellence – The best teams have clarity on what is truly valuable, and understand precisely how they can deliver it.
  • Support – Colleagues within the best teams support and help each other accomplish more.
  • Future – The highest performing teams are optimistic their own growth & development and the future of the company.

None of those themes should be surprising for you. We all want to be a part of a team where we accomplish something important, but the same time everyone felt recognized for the our uniqueness.  But this kind of common sense approach to high performing teams is not enough.  We need a way to assess how our teams are currently doing, and provide a roadmap for their improvement.  And that is where the 8 Questions of High Performance Teams comes into play.

Originally designed by ADP, these 8 questions validly predicts sustained team performance, and identifies specific aspects of a team / team leader that exist disproportionately in the highest performing teams. What I love about these 8 questions is that they capture the secret sauce of high performing teams. Each component of a high performing team is captured in these precisely worded questions.  The answers to these questions will provide you a clear snapshot on how your team is feeling, and most importantly, a sense of direction on how to help your team increase their performance.

Company Culture Doesn’t Matter.  Team Health Does



Taking The First Steps Towards High Performing Teams

First let me get something clear.  I am not trying to sell you ADP’s services.   What is love about these 8 questions is that there are only 8.  For the majority of startups  and scaleups I’ve worked with, there is no need to run a huge time consuming engagement survey.  You wouldn’t use an MRI machine for a job that can be solved by a magnifying glass.  Similarly, startups and scaleups don’t need engagement surveys and software.  They just need to get in a room and talk.

Unfortunately, talking about team performance does not always lead to a “fun” or “happy” conversation from the team.  And for some leaders and employees, that fear of uncomfortable conversations leads them to avoid openly sharing or talking about how the team is doing.  They feel safer talking about the team through an anonymous survey.  But this kind of fear has no place in a startup / scaleup.  Leaders need to have the courage to have open and honest conversations with their teams, and employees need to be made to feel safe to share their honest opinions.  

The simple truth is that building a High Performance Team starts by talking together about the team.  Discussing these 8 questions as a team will provide the leader and team a clear picture of the team’s health and ability to perform.  And even more importantly it will help you identify where to help the team start improving.  Building a high performance team doesn’t have to be more complex than that. 

Company Culture Doesn’t Matter.  Team Health Does

For More Inspiration Read “Nine Lies About Work”

I came across this 8 Questions of High Performance Teams in the book “Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World” by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall.  Nine Lies uses research, data, and engaging stories to identify and dismantle some of the most common beliefs we hold about work and replace them with simpler truths.  I can personally attest that some of my core beliefs about leadership and high performance were completely shook up.  For example, Nine Lies has inspired me to move away from leadership competency models, and instead develop leaders around their unique strengths.   If you are a fan of this blog, then I recommend you read Nine Lies.

Company Culture Doesn’t Matter.  Team Health Does

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Cary Bailey–Findley has built High Performance Cultures within three Fortune 500 companies, and was awarded the ranking of #1 development organization in the world by the Association of Talent Development. He is currently the Talent Manager for SimCorp, but spends his free time helping startups scale up the the talent they need to succeed.

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