How to maintain a unified company culture when your workforce grows

Andrew Filev's company has six offices in five countries and has still managed to maintain a unified company culture. Here, he gives some tips on how you can do the same.

A few months ago, one of our investors visited our headquarters for a lunch hour talk with our team. During the Q&A portion, a young member of our sales team – a recent college graduate – spoke up: ‘As a start-up,’ he asked, ‘how do you know when you’ve made it?’

‘Let’s put it this way,’ the investor responded. ‘One day, you’ll walk through the office, and you’ll see a bunch of colleagues in the hallway you’ve never met. That’s a good sign you’ve made it.’

While this metric is hardly scientific, it is something that all companies have to deal with as they scale from dozens to hundreds of employees. In very small start-ups, people wear multiple hats and contribute to many initiatives. As the headcount grows and roles become more defined, the familial start-up company culture naturally begins to fade, with multiple cultures unique to each team emerging in its place. As a result, there’s a risk of a ‘them and us’ mentality developing between teams in place of the unity that existed when everyone worked together.

This mentality can jeopardise productivity and make work more difficult. In a recent survey we conducted among marketing teams, 21 per cent of respondents said ‘them and us’ was their biggest issue when collaborating with other departments.

In my company, we’ve worked hard to stave this off. We have six offices in five countries and still have managed to maintain a unified culture. Here are some tips for how you can do the same.

Cross-team interviews

One good way to make sure your company’s culture scales across teams is to invite members of different teams into the interview process. Since most jobs will require some kind of cross-team collaboration, it can go a long way to know that multiple teams have signed off on a candidate and feel that he or she will be a good fit for the overall organisation. A sales rep, for example, might ask a marketing candidate questions about topics they feel will impact their sales. This approach also makes sure that candidates are well-rounded, and knowledgeable about multiple facets of the company.

Create feedback channels

Sometimes, frustration can occur between teams when they feel like they aren’t able to communicate feedback to each other. When that happens, imaginations have a tendency to run wild, with people thinking that the lack of communication equals a lack of caring, or that teams are content to operate on their own without concern for the rest of a company.

By opening up channels for feedback and communication, you give teams the opportunity to share ideas, notify each other on progress and results, and ideate around solutions to problems that affect both groups. It can be as simple as a monthly all-hands meeting, or a technology solution like a social network that allows people to post ideas and have discussions with visibility.

Celebrate together

Recognise that all teams and departments in the company have a symbiotic relationship with each other. Each team has a right to celebrate their own milestones, but celebrations for the whole company shouldn’t be overlooked. For the last two years at Wrike, we’ve had an annual kickoff celebration in Mexico, where hundreds of our team members gathered to celebrate the successes of last year and plan for the year ahead – together.

As a micro-multinational, we have 400 employees spread across our six offices, meaning every day our employees are collaborating with people in different countries with different cultures and different norms for communication. We therefore have to put extra effort into preventing the ‘them and us” effect, in order to create a great company culture and minimal friction between heterogeneous teams.

Andrew Filev is founder and CEO of Wrike.

Further reading on company culture

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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