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  • Writer's pictureEva-Maria Zoll

You need to design company culture. Here is why.

From 2015 to 2017 I was filling the role of a Culture Lead in a tech company. The company I worked for was a tech startup with an actually new innovative product. We started to design culture and our organizational structure instead of just letting it happen by accident when the team size was around 13 people. This role emerged out of my personal interest, next to my „main“ role as Communication/Brand lead, and the need of the company to be more strategic in the way how we build the company and the culture. We adopted Holacracy as an operating system for the company and had a lot of rules, processes, and methods defined by the constitution of Holacracy. Yet, there were other fields, all connected to people, which were not defined and it was our work to design them. I saw the big overlaps of communication, brand, culture, people development, HR, business strategy, goal setting, and decision-making and it baffled me how intertwined they are.

The way you set goals, implement strategy, the way you lead, structure yourself, the way you communicate, your tone of voice. All those elements shape culture, consciously, or unconsciously.

Building a company gives you a unique chance and challenge to define everything from scratch. Yet, this isn’t something which is only important for new companies and startups at the moment.

The question „How do we work with each other?“ is a question every team lead, manager, and every CEO has to find answers for. Today more than ever before.

Why? Here we go with a very brief look at five specific areas.

1. What makes us human?

What is the value we bring to the table as humans? How can we make work more human, shape a culture of belonging, and create an environment that inspires excellence?“ At the moment, we run updates from an authority focused hierarchical static mindset to a dynamic, ever-learning collaborative mindset. In order to unleash creative potential, the oil of the 21. Century, we will have to integrate our emotional and vulnerable sides back into our daily lives and workplaces.

2. Renaissance of relationships We are experiencing a big transformation and diversification in the way how we build relationships and how we are in relationships with each other. In our private and romantic relationships as well as in professional relationships. In order to design company culture, we have to first understand the anatomy of relationships as a core to a fundamentally different way of working with each other.

3. Uncertainty better becomes our friend The speed we operate in, do business and innovate is becoming faster and faster. We are navigating more uncertainty than ever before and what it needs from us is the constant ability and capacity to learn, adapt, relearn and redesign. The operating systems of our organizations are in constant need of further development, iteration, and refinement, and we will have all sorts of organizational structures co-exist.

4. Leadership?! Top-down leadership with a high power imbalance seems to slowly die out. New concepts and ways of redefining leadership are already in swing yet, we are currently experiencing a big transition from deleting old patterns and updating to ourselves to a different way of leading. This is a tricky challenge because it feels like we are asked to play a game, nobody has ever shown us to play.

5. Data and tech The tools and data we have at hand to help us collaborate and organize ourselves better give us the chance to make a decision not only on a gut feeling but also based on data. Curating excellent teams, increasing creative output and performance, increase team fit, and predict burn out are just some potentials. At the same time, we are confronted with information and insights through data that challenges us in our ethics and values and our capacity to use them for the best instead of letting them be the sole source of reference for people-related decisions.

I believe that people who fill the role with culture designers have the challenge and task to support, develop, delete, provoke, make visible, connect and design answers and solutions to all questions arising from the areas mentioned above and do this in an ongoing, iterative manner.


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