In one way or another, most people professionals know this, and put in the effort to make work a refreshing and motivating place to be. But oftentimes reward programs or happy hours are a notch short of that warm, nougaty, fulfillment that we all aim for. People participate, but leave with little more than free food or gear. We’ve been fortunate to meet, work with, and talk to a lot of the best culture-builders around, and we’re here to share some of their thoughts on what makes a stand-out culture.
It’s more than just time together
In an ideal workplace, your colleagues are your friends, and you enjoy spending time together. To achieve this, the best opportunities for forming relationships come from more than just the occasional get-together. Relationships blossom when people find themselves enjoying a new experience; when they can be exposed to something that makes them feel slightly vulnerable, and rewarded by celebrating that moment with one another. Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, says it well:
“If you can belong out of your comfort zone and something new happens to you, then there's going to be a moment of transformation where the person you were in a small way dies and a new better version of yourself is reborn.” 
Culture budgets provide a rare opportunity for you to create a shared hero’s journey for your colleagues; to have them experience overcoming a new and exciting challenge together. In fact, my co-founder and I met from exactly this type of initiative. We worked together at Webflow, where every other week our team participated in interesting and unfamiliar activities, coordinated by our amazing operations manager. We learned how to surf together, how to make cocktails together, and more. These “mini” journeys helped us grow and brought us closer, leading to the friendship we have today.
A culture is reflection of the values of a company, its founders, and--eventually--all of the people who work there. So it makes sense that instead of a cookie-cutter approach to community, we make efforts to grow people as individuals, in ways that are deeply personal to them. When done well, this allows them to not only find fulfilling community or work, but to feel cared for as an individual.
Our favorite story about personal culture comes from our rock-star friend Emma, who has been responsible for onboarding and operations at a number of Denver companies. As part of her company onboarding, she likes to ask each new employee about their childhood dreams, and what they want(ed) to be when they are older. When possible, she fuses this into company events. One particular colleague had dreamt of being a falconer, a la my side of the mountain. On his birthday, he was nearly moved to tears when a falconer burst into the conference room, bird on arm, and spent the next few hours helping him and everyone else learn to handle a falcon.
The above points, particularly combined with substantial work, make a for a culture where people feel challenged and rewarded. Socially, people grow by learning new skills outside of their comfort zone, and bonding over these shared moments. Individually, one feels cared for, and loyal to a group of people that goes out of their way to consider their interests. While not every company can bring an apex predator into their office, there are plenty of smaller opportunities to create this connection, and show that the company is invested on a personal level. This can create a hopeful environment, where people are excited about what’s ahead.
Ultimately, it is practices like these that make for a world-class culture, and a company where someone can really imagine a future for themselves.
Interested in trying your hand at some of the creative mojo described above? Sign up to Zestful for free to see how we can help, or check out our tips on team building.
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