In all honesty, who likes to tell their colleagues that they haven’t done a very good job? Or give negative feedback to their boss? Not me. And not most of the people I know. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s this: no matter how hard it is, building a transparent company culture is worth every effort.
Teams thrive on trust
It’s not just me who thinks so. A few years ago, Google decided to set out on a quest for the perfect team. Basically, they wanted to understand why some of their teams flourish, while others stumble. And they wanted to find the winning mix of personality types, skills and backgrounds. But they ended up with something completely different. Turns out it’s not the ‘who’ but the ‘how’ that matters.
Teams thrive on trust. Or as Google calls it, psychological safety: an environment where individuals feel safe to speak truthfully and openly about issues, without the fear of negative consequences. In other words, people on teams with high psychological safety feel more confident about taking risks, admitting their mistakes and using their initiative. And best of all, they’re also less likely to quit, tend to bring in more revenue and are more effective.
7+1 ways to improve company culture
As it’s often the case with changing the collective mindset, this is easier said than done. Especially, if you aren’t culturally wired to give and receive constructive feedback in the first place. Or communicate assertively with people across the career ladder.
This is especially true in Hungary, where we are often taught to keep our opinions to ourselves, even in school. Just think about Literature classes where you had to learn what a poem meant according to a book, instead of sharing your interpretations and what it meant to you.
But these skills are just as crucial in today’s workplace as technical knowledge or experience. For years, we’ve been working hard on creating an environment where honesty is not just a catchphrase. It’s a guiding principle in everything we do.
So here’s what we do to foster an honest work environment at Digital Natives:
- We start from the top
Honesty is a two-way street so don’t fudge the truth. In a survey, a shocking 58% of employees said they trust strangers more than their own boss. Ouch. That’s why we regularly share our company’s financial reports, investment decisions and all important information internally.
- We listen, listen, listen
Put time and energy into listening to others on your team. Don’t have the time? Make the time. No matter your pay grade or position, at Digital Natives we consciously make an effort to have discussions with every teammate. I and our CTO Pepusz are regularly organizing one-on-one meetings to ask for feedback, listen to concerns or just check up on the team. It’s important that people feel they can turn to you, even with personal matters.
- We look for a cultural fit
Don’t just look for folks who have all the right skills. Select people who will match the company culture you’re trying to build. What we do is we involve as many teammates as we can in our selection processes. This way we can have a fuller picture of the motivation and personality of candidates and whether they will fit into the team. If there’s no chemistry, we move on.
- We encourage feedback
Provide frameworks for giving feedback. At Digital Natives, for example, we swear by retrospective meetings, feedback forms, and regular face-to-face discussions. We even provide the opportunity to have personal coaching on communication if someone would benefit from that.
- We eliminate hierarchy from feedback
In an honest company culture, anyone can give feedback to anyone, with no consequences. Every six months, we evaluate each other’s contribution and competences – and I’m no exception. Our peer-to-peer performance review system ensures that the evaluation process is as transparent and objective as possible. And everyone’s part of it.
- We don’t just criticize, we also praise
Let people know if they’re on the right track. A good feedback culture is positive in the first place. That’s why we’ve introduced our #thanks Slack channel, where anyone could say kudos to team members for a job well done. Though the #thanks channel did not work as well as we thought it would, we still keep making an effort to appreciate accomplishments. We also make sure to celebrate every success, from a great pitch to a new client.
- We tolerate failure
You won’t fail if you don’t try. And you surely won’t succeed every time. Cultivate a culture where it’s OK to make mistakes if you learn from them. At our company, team members have a large playground to experiment. Whether it’s an idea for doing something better internally or an out-of-the-box solution to a client’s challenge, we encourage them to test their ideas.
+1 We aim to resolve tension
No matter what you do, there will be tensions between people. We are no exception. But we make sure to address them early on so they don’t become major issues. Sometimes all we need is a heart-to-heart conversation with a colleague. Other times, when the situation is tougher we turn to outside help, like a coach or a mediator. An impartial participant can keep the discussion calm and to the point, which helps people to open up more.
Don’t get me wrong, we still have a long way to go. But we’ve already taken the first, all-important step. We’ve made it our goal to try and become more open and more honest with each other day by day.
How about you? What tips do you have for building an honest company culture?