A Winning Culture

“Why is culture so important to a business? Here is a simple way to frame it. The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs. When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing. People can be independent and autonomous. They can be entrepreneurial. And if we have a company that is entrepreneurial in spirit, we will be able to take our next “(wo)man on the moon” leap. Ever notice how families or tribes don’t require much process? That is because there is such a strong trust and culture that it supersedes any process. In organizations (or even in a society) where culture is weak, you need an abundance of heavy, precise rules and processes.[1]”

Have you ever been part of an amazing team - one with great teammates that shared similar values, a compelling vision, and a laser-like focus toward accomplishing that vision? Now think back to when you were part of a dysfunctional team - one that lacked cohesion, direction, and purpose?

I would bet the house that the difference between those two experiences boils down to culture.

What is company culture?

“Company culture doesn’t exist apart from the company itself: no company has a culture; every company is a culture. A startup is a team of people on a mission, and a good culture is just what that looks like on the inside.[2]”

Quite simply, as Brian Chesky, Airbnb CEO, puts it: “Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with passion.”

I like to think of culture as the “internal” brand of a team. Just as a company aims to build a compelling, “external” brand that resonates with its target customer, a company must also aim to cultivate a winning culture that resonates with its employees. Sadly, the latter is often overlooked, or in some cases sacrificed, in pursuit of the former.

Why is a winning culture so important?

  1. It distinguishes you from every other company/competitor.

  2. It serves as a guide to identify, hire, measure, and retain employees who fit with your company mission.

  3. It ensures that your company’s core values endure in the face of everyday decision-making - big or small.

How to cultivate a winning culture?

There are two essential ingredients to cultivating a winning culture:

  1. Focusing on a core mission that is compelling and unique.

  2. Aligning each team member to play a defined, irreplaceable role in fulfilling that core mission.

This brings me to my last point, a winning culture has total buy-in from every team member, no matter their role because everybody is in lock-step toward achieving the core mission.

Recently, I’ve been part of two winning cultures: the University of Notre Dame Men’s Soccer team and Passion City Church in Atlanta, GA. On both teams, I played a role that from the outside world would be perceived as “small”: I was a reserve player on our soccer team and a volunteer, or Door Holder, at PCC. Yet, that didn’t undermine my contribution to the team. In both instances, I was just as committed as our star player and as our lead pastor. My impact wasn’t rooted in the perception of those outside our inner circle because I knew without a hint of a doubt that I played a significant role - an irreplaceable role - on both teams.

I’ve been blessed to have had these two experiences demonstrate what a winning culture looks like. Moving forward, my goal is to cultivate a winning culture on whatever team(s) I’m fortunate to be a part of.

Notes:

  1. This quote is from Brian Chesky’s blog post titled, “Don’t Fuck Up the Culture.”

  2. This quote is from Peter Thiel and Blake Masters’ new book titled, “Zero to One,” a must-read for all entrepreneurs. You can order your copy here.

 
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