The early days of running a company are a stressful but rewarding time. The team spirit and camaraderie that comes from a closely knit bunch of founders battling against the odds to bring something to market creates a close bond of comradeship.
As the company grows, the danger is that sense of team spirit is lost, amongst a spectrum of personalities, roles, responsibilities and formality. It’s common for larger businesses to discuss 'company culture', and how that's nurtured, but even small businesses can benefit from thinking about this too.
We've been doing a bit of this type of thinking over the last year as our company has grown quickly and here's a couple of the practical things we've introduced recently to keep that team spirit alive and well.
As companies expand, knowledge about the inner workings and performance of the business becomes disparate, disseminated across people and departments.
Using Geckoboard we've recently created a new company status board, which displays key business metrics and KPIs. We're just starting to explore its potential but important information about customer support, website traffic, Twitter conversations etc are now visible to everyone in the company at a glance.
This gives everyone an awareness of what's going on across the company, and a sense of purpose as well. We're all working to increase user numbers, improve support response times, maintaining app stability and so on.
One of the things we try to do is have lunch together as a company most days, so no matter what how busy everyone is, we'll get together for a catch up over food. We also buy in a catered lunch for everyone on each Friday.
As we've hired more staff we've started to outgrow our current office space, so we've taken over the building next door and the design/dev team have moved in there. It's great having the whole dev team together but it does mean we're that bit further away from the rest of the company.
To make sure we don't miss each other at lunch, we've fitted web cams to each of our newly installed wall mounted TVs, and one of the widgets on our Geckoboard is a video feed from the main office. This means that everyone in the dev room can see when people are gathering for lunch in the other room, and pop round for sandwiches and a natter.
Because we now work with a couple of remote developers, making sure the lines of communication are always open is crucial.
We use the TVs as part of our daily stand up meetings, with the remote workers present via video link. In addition everyone is available throughout the day on IM should we need to discuss anything. Basically even though remote developers don't sit in the main office everday, they're as good as.
There's clearly a lot to be pleased about when a business takes off and starts to grow. We can provide our team with nice chairs and computers, but building a happy workforce is much more than buying shiny gadgets.
There's potential dangers, although I'm convinced these can be minimised by some foresight and commonsense. Thinking about company culture, and the practical steps you put in place to enable it, might seem like an unnecessary or pretentious thing to do, especially if you're a small company, but if you don't you could easily find yourself losing the essence of what you had in the early days as you start to expand.
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