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How to Create a High-Performing and Fitting Culture

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Leveraging your unique vision, values and resiliency to craft a culture right for you.

By Frieda Edgette (Founder, Novos)

With the mainstream media and blogosphere abuzz the past few weeks of women tech executives (thank you Marissa and !), the question of how women lead and shape organizational culture is once again front and center.

When we talk about organizational culture, what does that mean? Yes, culture may be manifested in catch phrases and anecdotes. Ultimately, culture is the vision, value and intangible aura that you, as a leader, and your team co-create through communication, agreed upon modes of operating and demonstrated resiliency. If anything, the Mayer–Sandberg discussion emphasizes there is no “One Size Fits All” approach to culture.

How do you visualize your “Ideal Culture”? Perhaps close your eyes. What do you see? What do you hear? What are team members doing? How are they interacting with one another – and where are they? How are chaos and conflict managed? This is culture.

If You Build It…

So, how do you get from where you are today to your ideal cultural environment? As a woman entrepreneur, you play a key role in building the tone, style and systems that define your organization.

Below are five questions to answer to create a culture best suited for your start-up. Brainstorm solo and/or involve your entire C-team. Keep in mind: What makes sense – and feels right – for your organization?

  • What are our core values? Be specific. What is important to you as a leader – and how do you know you are “walking the talk” and “talking the walk”? Innovation, creativity, respect and collaboration are all important concepts – how are they realized in action?
  • What systems and processes do we have in place to track progression – and celebrate achievements? Guided by personal responsibility and collective accountability, some teams are 100% virtual and use online systems to track objective progression in a transparent way. Whereas, some co-located teams have biweekly in-person project management meetings with Post-Its and white boards. Some organizations have everyone in the office because it increases team cohesion and increases performance (shout out: Yahoo!). For others, the group dynamic interferes with peak productivity. Everyone’s work style is different. The bottom line is that systems that are people-oriented, realistic and driven by organization-specific data deliver results.
  • How do we communicate? Strive to be decoder-free. Each organization has its own lingo. Facilitate universal understanding of what terms and words mean to build trusting, inclusive and generative relationships. Similarly, clarify if and when your team engages through email, text, phone, face-to-face.
  • How are decisions made? Decisions, decisions, decisions. When are decisions made by consensus, by democracy or by position? Honestly evaluate how factors like risk and time influence the decision making process – because they do.
  • How do we overcome challenges (to growth and survival)? It is trite but true that the magic is in the process. No challenge or conflict is a waste if lessons are learned. In many ways, responses to this question set the stage of what defines your culture. When mistakes happen, how does your team react, respond and recoup for efficient and amicable problem-solving? How are your core values followed – or not – in crisis?

Your startup’s culture will evolve over time as new technologies are introduced, new people come on board and markets change. This is totally natural, healthy and a key part of the growth process. As the pieces shift, reflecting, revising and refining these five cultural components (Values, Systems, Communication, Decision Making and Problem-Solving) create a fitting, cohesive and high performing culture.

Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr.

About the guest blogger: Frieda K. Edgette is Founder and Principal of Novos, a change management and coaching consultancy that helps individuals and organizations through strategic transitions. Frieda is also Founder of Courage to Run, a leadership initiative dedicated to mutually developing female professionals in business, on boards and to public service through, yes, running, brunching and collectively inspiring. She holds a MSc in Organizational and Social Psychology from the London School of Economics.

Women 2.0 readers: How have your sculpted your startup’s culture to be high-performing AND fun? Let us know in the comments.