Building Company Culture: 4 Initial Steps for Startups

Two people exchanging a high five in a virtual meeting, Frankli performance management and engagement software

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In a startup, the culture is informed by the founders, at first. Their wishes, their beliefs, their collective previous experience. Sometimes the driving motivation to create a startup in the first place is wanting to be more in control of how work feels. This all falls under the heading of culture building.

It’s said that the first six people who join a business shape its culture. In fact, that number often expands to include an ever-increasing number of early joiners, but regardless of the exact number, it's certain that the early team shapes the culture initiated by the founders.

So in 2022, with 10 super people on our team (and counting), we decided it was time to become more intentional about our culture. At Frankli, we’re on a mission to fix work, and we obviously need to lead from the front wherever we can.

We don’t leave our product, our service or our customer experiences to chance, so why would we leave our culture to chance?

Our founders had kicked the culture ball onto the pitch and made some early decisions to set the course and outline our progressive business model. We’re a remote-first company and we’re also in the middle of a global pilot to adopt the four-day week model. Both of these new ways of working require a high-performing team, a focus on outputs, great teamwork and clarity on how we work and what’s expected of everyone.

We needed to build on our existing company culture, so we came up with a simple plan for how to do it. Here, I’ll share our step-by-step process, which I know other teams may find useful in creating their own company culture.

Building Company Culture: 4 Initial Steps for Startups

Step 1: Set Up a Culture Group

Our first move was to set up a culture group, affectionately known as Culture Club, featuring one co-founder and two people from the team. We made a plan to meet for regular, short chats to further the conversation around culture at Frankli.

Step 2: Start Asking Questions

At our first meeting, we took it right back to basics. We asked questions about culture, and what it means, and we began to capture the essence of what our culture is today.

Some questions we asked;

1. What is culture?
2. What does culture mean for people?
3. Who are we?
4. How do things work around here?

Step 3: Log your Discoveries

In our own Culture Club conversations, we discovered that we value trust. We treat people like adults. We’re results-focused and accountable to each other. That was all great information to have, but we also needed to identify room for improvement. For example, we found a need to be much more specific for new joiners around how team and individual interactions should work.

Step 4: Check in with the Wider Team

We kept our Culture Club sessions short and frequent every week or so at the start. Then we’d double back and check in with our colleagues to ensure everyone had the opportunity to voice their opinions on what the company culture should be.

This four-step approach worked well to get our culture project off the ground. We learned a lot about how people work best and what we needed to tweak.

Next, we’ll be writing up a culture code book so we have a tangible compass to look to as we scale, but it will always be a living, breathing thing, evolving as we do. We’re clear that our culture is a precious asset and it needs to enhance our Mission.

Building Company Culture: My Key Takeaway from Phase One

I think one of the main challenges of our culture project is actually not going too far with it, too soon. It can be tempting to try to quickly clarify it all and type it up in a pretty document. We actually need to leave space for new ideas, new contributions and new elements to come in.

I think Culture Club has created a really important feedback loop and some of the best elements of our culture will undoubtedly emerge from our short but regular chats in the coming months and years. I sometimes think of culture being like the Mother Starter of a great sourdough bread. As long as it's nurtured and fed, it’ll continue to provide the essence of a great company for decades to come.

Frankli drives culture forward by making it easier for teams to align and connect. Find out more at Frankli.io.

Frankli helps teams with some of the key elements of great company culture, including clear communication and opportunities for learning and development. Find out how.

‍60-Second Version: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Company Culture

Introduction: As we continue to scale at Frankli, we needed to become more intentional about our company culture, so we came up with a simple plan for getting the ball rolling. Here, I’ll share the four-step process.

Step 1: Set Up a Culture Group. Featuring one co-founder and two people from the team, our group met for regular, short chats to further the conversation around culture.

Step 2: Start Asking Questions. At our first culture group meeting, we asked ourselves some basic questions;

1. What is culture?
2. What does culture mean for people?
3. Who are we?
4. How do things work around here?

Step 3: Log your Discoveries. You tend to learn a lot about what your people value from these discussions, and areas where you can improve.

Step 4: Check in with the Wider Team. We do this to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to voice their opinions on what the company culture should be.

Next Steps: Our next move will be to write a culture code book so we have a tangible compass to look to as we scale. Stay tuned for part two!

Frankli drives culture forward by making it easier for teams to align and connect. Find out more at Frankli.io.

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