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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Rally the Team: How to Create a Cool Office Culture

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If you’re a new manager, it’s now your job to motivate and inspire your team to success. Performance reviews, the hiring process, and giving good feedback might be the first things on your mind, but there’s another factor that should rank right up there: team culture.

Why? Well, according to the Corporate Leadership Council, “engaged and satisfied employees feel a profound connection to their company, and are driven to help their employers succeed.” And—in addition to the obvious elements such as job duties, benefits and salary—culture is a major factor in how happy employees feel in their jobs.

But creating a good culture goes well beyond the typical perks like annual bonuses and Hawaiian shirt Friday (you saw how well it worked in Office Space). It’s about establishing an atmosphere where people feel positive, purposeful, and engaged—not just in what they’re doing, but with the company as a whole.

The good news is, you as a manager can create this environment for your team. Here are a few ideas, inspired by other companies, to help you get started.

1. Establish Core Values and Goals

You likely have goals for your team, but if your staff members aren’t bought into (or even aware of) those goals, they can be pretty hard to reach. But by bringing the team together, setting goals, and developing a set of values you’ll stick to, you can go a long way in inspiring success.

So take the group out for lunch and brainstorm on what they think it takes to succeed. Share your goals for the team, answer questions, and get input. Your team members will be more bought into their tasks and projects when they know what they’re working for, and when they have a sense for how their work fits into the company’s bigger picture.

Then, really listen to everyone’s feedback, and talk about what it’ll take to reach the goals you laid out. Afterward, come up with a set of values that reflect their suggestions. Not only will this help everyone buy into the same core values, it will establish a sense of accountability to follow them.

A role model for this idea is, which is almost as famous for its culture as it is for its deals on shoes. President and CEO Tony Hsieh had a vision to build both a successful business and a strong, family-like culture, so he established 10 core values as a guide for everything a Zappos employee should do—such as embrace change, build honest relationships, and pursue growth and learning. But he didn’t just issue an ultimatum: He involved the employees throughout the entire process, which helped to ensure that everyone embraced the meaning and significance of those company values. And it worked—Zappos is currently #15 on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

2. Create Fun Work Spaces

People spend the majority of time at work, so why not have work be a place that reflects what makes them happy? Encourage your team members to express their personalities in their workspaces, or come up with a fun decorating challenge for the office. This can stir creativity and also develop a more relaxed environment. Creating enticing break rooms or collaboration areas within the office is also a great way to foster inventiveness and bring the team together. Google (#4 on Fortune’s list) is one company that’s truly embraced this mentality. Each office around the world has decor that reflects the country and local culture, showing off the region’s personality. At many offices, bicycles and scooters are available to travel between meetings, and common spaces are full of foosball, pool tables, and video games. While your budget manager might not go for scooters, there are plenty of cheaper options that can still make your workspace unique—set up a quick board game in the break room, or bring in your Wii and host a bowling championship once a month.

3. Plan Team Outings

Allowing the team to bond outside of the workplace helps everyone to get to know each other on a more personal level, an opportunity that doesn’t always present itself during the daily grind. Group outings can be as simple as a monthly breakfast club, signing up for a volleyball team, or going out for happy hour once a month. You can even assign one or two team members to plan the activity each month, which will help ensure that the group activities are viewed as fun, not boss-mandated!

For an extreme illustration, take Seagate Technology, which holds a crazy company outing each year. Employees apply to participate, and the 200 selected find themselves in a week-long challenge à la The Amazing Race that includes trekking, kayaking, biking, and more. Putting employees in these situations instantly teaches valuable lessons in teamwork and allows them to build strong relationships outside of the office (and it’s pretty fun for those who stand on the sidelines, too!).

4. Volunteer as a Team

It always feels good to give back to the community, and getting involved as a group is another way to strengthen connections between your team. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to do some networking and establish relationships with local businesses, as well as promote your company as a socially-conscious organization.

A charity walk or run is one way to get started—not only will this encourage a bit of friendly competition, it’s a great way to get some exercise, too! Adopting a family at the holidays, working on a Habitat for Humanity project, or allowing team members paid days off to volunteer at the charity of their choice are other great options.

While every company has rules (and budgetary restrictions), most will allow managers a little leeway to motivate their team. Motivated employees mean greater productivity, and that means more revenue, right? Plus, steps like sharing the company’s “bigger picture” and brainstorming team values don’t cost a thing. To get the most out of your group, do what you can to improve their daily work experience and develop a culture where everyone believes in what he or she does, and in the company—because that’s what inspires people to do their best.