8 steps for cultivating an inspiring workplace culture

Your organization thrives when employees are engaged and continually seeking new ways to streamline internal processes and improve products and services. Try these approaches.

Company culture can make or break a business.

I’ve seen it in several companies that I’ve started or worked for. In my experience leading teams over the past 10 years, the CEO almost always dictates a startup’s culture.

When I was running an agency eight years ago, my business was struggling. I let this affect the culture of our team. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, this was demotivating our entire company—so much that we closed shop and let everyone go.

Since my failure, I’ve learned that to succeed in business, you have to succeed in relationships. You have to motivate your employees to the point that they would do anything for the business. Here are a few tips I’ve used over the years to develop a successful company by energizing my team members:

1. Be honest—all the time. No company is perfect or successful all the time. In order for your whole team to be on board with you, you have to be as honest as you can about your accomplishments, potential setbacks and what you need from your team. Better communication about common goals yields better results.

2. Leave your employees alone, and manage from a distance. Though it’s tempting to micromanage every moving part of your company, you’re better off taking a step back and allowing your employees to gain confidence on their own, away from your watchful eyes, knowing that they have your full trust. Watching from a distance has allowed several “intrapreneurs” to grow in our company. Had I not stepped back and watched, they wouldn’t have been able to stand out and shine.

3. Create short-term goals for every department, and communicate through team leads. People maintain their motivation in and out of the office when they’re looking ahead at the next goalpost. An abstract endpoint only produces sporadic bursts of motivation. Small, manageable daily or weekly tasks keep people on track. Rather than hold your employees’ hands through their smaller tasks, consider communication through team leads in your company, diversifying the leadership and letting each part of the company move on its own.

4. Hold small meetings and all-inclusive social activities. We’ve all been through enough slow, pointless meetings to know that whenever important issues must be discussed, such exchanges should involve only relevant people and should focus on finding a solution quickly. I find that not being present at every meeting empowers groups to work independently. Though meetings should stay small, other non-work social activities should be totally inclusive of the team; that way, everyone feels involved.

5. Have a fun chat. Whether your company mostly interacts over Slack, Google Hangouts or another internal messaging system, there should be a group chat devoted to non-work-related fun. Whether management should be involvement depends on its relationship to the rest of the company. A #random channel or a fun chat keeps employees feeling socially buoyed even in stressful times and fosters an environment where people can open up to each other with a sense of levity. We also like to go on daily walks, which allows us to have fun chats outside work.

6. Find a shared interest with your team. What boosts team morale more than cheering for the same team? If your company has a shared interest in the Olympics or watching an Apple keynote presentation, you can surprise your employees by projecting an important live game or the keynote during work hours. If your city’s hockey team has made the Stanley Cup playoffs or your football team is in the Super Bowl, you can hold a low-stakes betting pool or fantasy draft. If very few people care about sports in your office, maybe an Oscar pool will appease the movie buffs in your organization.

7. Encourage individuals to have ideas and pursue new responsibilities. A unique benefit of working for a startup is the opportunity to move laterally into other roles and discover new skills. A good organization empowers its employees across all levels to pursue more responsibilities, not necessarily just in the roles they were hired for. They should also be encouraged to express new ideas for projects that align with the brand. It took just a few team members at Airbnb HQ, for example, to pursue an idea that helped 1,400 people find temporary relief from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Since then, its disaster response initiative has helped people find shelter all over the world.

8. Celebrate successes. In a startup—where there often isn’t a lot of money to spend on elaborate parties, expensive team retreats or even happy hours outside the office—the thing most worth celebrating is success. Touting individual achievement reminds team members that they are valued and can initiate change. Team success means that the ship is moving out into the larger waters. To some, birthdays are about as superficial as celebrations go, but to others they are important. Success defines the hope that startups are struggling against the odds.

Murray Newlands is an entrepreneur, investor, business advisor, contributor at Forbes.com and Entrepreneur.com, and co-founder of Influence People. A version of this article originally appeared on BusinessCollective. Launched in partnership with Citi, BusinessCollective is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.

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