What Is It We Talk About When We Talk About Culture

February 28, 2021
2 minute read

At first glance company culture and team culture seem to be obvious topics. Recently though a newly hired colleague asked me how I’d describe and rate the culture of our company and of our department. I struggled to find an answer. This got me thinking what culture really is and what makes a healthy culture.

As usual I tried to find answers on the Internet which led me to “official” definitions like these from SHRM:

An organization’s culture defines the proper way to behave within the organization. This culture consists of shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors and understanding.

While this is obviously not wrong I think it misses a crucial point. Culture is not so much what is written in mision statements, company value documents or HR policies it is what happens in reality everyday. This twitter response by Benjamin Black summarizes it nicely:

culture is the choices you make when nobody is watching

If this is true here are some items that I see as mandatory in healthy company or team culture:

The interesting thing regarding all these is that you cannot simply enforce them or declare them but people within a team or company need to live them day by day. This in turn depends as much on what you do as what you don’t do and also don’t tolerate, e.g. blaming people in stand-ups or in retrospectives.

I believe this is an approach that not only applies to managers/leaders of all levels but similarly to each person on a team.

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