How do you create a company culture where people love to come to work? That is something I think about every day, one of the most important factors that can lead to a success or failure of a company/startup.

The point of creating a company culture is that you can mould it into a culture that reflects onto your product(s). It reflects the way you want customers to communicate with you and you can use the strong points of the culture. That is not to say you need a ‘happy’ company culture (although I do believe that is the way to go personally) but you want to work with generally happy people around you. Warwick University study suggests that happy employees are 12% more productive.

At ArcticStartup I was the fifth member to come in and as a former social worker in psychiatry, my focus on ‘happiness’ came rather naturally. I went on and started to ask how everyone was doing, brought cookies and organized a few after works and get together gatherings. Not long after that our CEO (Dmitri Sarle) dubbed me the ‘Chief of Happiness’. At first, it was kind of a joke but it seemed to have a big effect on the atmosphere at work. My CEO then asked me to concentrate more on it and gave me permission to spend my time doing what I do best, – talking and listening to people and figuring out what their wishes and needs are. It might sound strange to many people but most of my time I was drinking coffee with my co workers. After spending hours and hours with my teammates I quickly learned that company culture is like a family, a system. A system that makes its parts relate to each other. How we relate to each other defines how we treat each other. How we treat each other defines how we feel. Do we feel appreciated, taken seriously, an important part of the company?

The wrong ways to think about team culture

You cannot copy team culture. No matter how successful a company can be, culture is not something that can be copied. Culture is so extremely specific to individuals, location and shared history that copying it would only create an illusion of team spirit. You can, of course, take another company’s culture as an example but you need to be able to modify it according to your own needs and wishes.

You cannot impose team culture. The relationships and interactions between people come from within. Bringing a trampoline in the office will not create a culture. You really need to engage with people and educate them about the best ways to interact at work. You should aim at the atmosphere full of respect and empathy, and strive for smooth and friendly communication on all company levels.

Culture is not built in a day. Creating and cultivating culture takes time and focus. A lot of it. It is not a gimmick and you can not save time on it. It is a long term goal you will never reach and you will have to work on it non-stop until the day the company ends.

HR can not work only in favour of the employer. The HR person should be there for the needs of the employee & the employer equally. Where a ‘normal’ HR person favours the needs of the employer, an extraordinary HR person advocates for both. In a way, this person should remain outside of the company and look for ways to achieve the best results for both parties.

You cannot separate the HR from management. The HR ( Of Chief of Happiness or Chief skills Officer) and CEO need to work closely together. HR person is a bridge between the management and the team. He/she is the one who communicates new concepts and processes explaining why they are good for the company. In this way the employees become self-sufficient, transparent workers with a cause and the CEO has more time to run the company.

The rights ways to think about team culture

We had our hard times too and learned the hard way the importance of taking time and focus on each and every employee. At some point before our major event Arctic15 I got sucked into production work. For the team that meant no more time for cookies, no more time for talks and fun. All of a sudden a Chief of happiness turned into a Chief of Darkness. It did not take long until our employees started to drift apart onto their individual islands working with their heads stuck into their laptops. We stopped nurturing our culture. That was a mistake. So how did we fix it?

We made the following decisions (and more).

One can not demand someone’s help, one asks for help. When one asks for help the others can say ‘no’. Before one says ‘no’ they have to think of an alternative solution.

“Outside of work” activities became a part of work. We learn about our employees’ hobbies and try to implement them in our leisure. We also organize a number of social activities, from playing board games to spending a weekend in a nice summer cab.

Breaks became a part of work. Considering the nature of our organisation (media and events), we are exposed to all kinds of stress. Therefore it is important to take care that none of our team members overdoes it.

Victories and wins are shared and celebrated together. We have a separate Slack channel to record and share our small wins. Having a feed full of positive news is a small thing but it is very encouraging and motivating for our team.

Our Chief of Happiness focuses on what his title says. My job is to coach, inspire motivate and instruct people to by reminding them of their own strengths. I create organizational structures by planning ahead, creating deadlines and keeping people informed, the list goes on and on.

It took us time to come back at where we were, but the results were truly rewarding. Our office felt like home again!

Your workplace is your second home.

Employees always get a feeling that they can’t bring their personal issues to work. They often choose not to share it with their colleagues trying to cope with problems alone. That results in poor performance, a decline in creativity and low energy levels. At ArcticStartup I capture of what each and every team member needs to be happy. I choose personal approach to team happiness. Sometimes a friendly conversation or good laugh can turn our mood and productivity upside down. As a result, people think of our company as a community of friends and people who they can rely on.

To make sure people feel comfortable at work, we designed processes based on team wishes and goals. In this way, we created a clear understanding between management strives and employees needs.

Play hard, loyalty hard!

The play is important, play at work is even more. It sparks creativity and breathes in new energy. Play creates loyalty, and loyalty is achieved by sharing laughter and pain. At ArcticStartup I capture the essence of what a team needs: freedom, passion, fun, autonomy, responsibility, shared decision making. What we do is not limited to just the office, it extends to engaging people in their spare time, like partying together or singing songs in a karaoke bar. As our CEO always says: 51% of your life you spend at work so you better makes it enjoyable.

All of this takes a lot of time and when I say a lot I mean a lot. Make your time count.

Joppe Quaedvlieg

Chief of happiness at ArcticStartup

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