Harnessing the Benefits of an Informal Company Culture

Every company has a culture, whether intentionally developed or not. While it’s something that can be difficult to put into words, employees undoubtedly experience the environment it creates firsthand every day. A company’s culture affects everything from perception to morale; decision-making to workflows.

As Society for Human Resource Management writes, organizational culture “consists of shared beliefs and values” created and maintained by leaders, “ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors and understanding.” A quick way to ascertain company culture is to think how you’d describe to someone what it’s like to work at X company. How receptive are leaders to new ideas? What are the perks of the job? How does the company handle internal communication? What is the mood when you walk through the front door?

One emerging trend is a tendency toward fostering an informal company culture. Many organizations today are moving beyond traditional, rigid hierarchies of years past—or trying to, at least. One major goal of this shift? Giving employees the freedom to think, communicate and work “outside the box” for better outcomes.

Looking to harness the benefits of an informal company culture while maintaining productivity and positive infrastructure? Here are a few ideas to consider.

Incentivize Employee Behavior

As one Harvard Business Review contributor notes, people tend to do whatever they’re incentivized to do. This is true both in terms of compensation and “softer” incentives like praise, recognition, promotions, etc.

In other words, part of creating your desired company culture is rewarding employees for behaviors that suit it. Rather than trying to force people to go along with a certain culture, build a system that inherently incentivizes employees to act in a way that ultimately upholds the culture. Doing so creates a loop in which the culture and individual employee actions reinforce each other.

An informal environment might trend toward rewarding employees for things like:

  • Offering up their honest ideas and feedback.
  • Spending social time with coworkers in reasonable quantities.
  • Taking advantage of company-sponsored wellness and lifestyle perks.
  • Working from home or from flexible in-person setups.
  • Undertaking training and orientation activities at an individual pace.

Set Communication Precedents

A lot of organizational culture boils down to communication. There’s large-scale communication, like how leadership touches base with the entire organization. There’s also small-scale communication, which encompasses how colleagues and teams collaborate. Both factor heavily into the overall culture by which an organization abides.

Many leading companies today are breaking down communication barriers between everyone from executives to interns. Instead of waiting for official word to travel down a hierarchical chain of command, employees are able to be in the room with leaders—physically or virtually—as they discuss the state of the company. And these all-hands meetings don’t have to be overly serious, either. The goal is increasingly to create genuine, interactive conversations. Something as simple as getting participants to answer funny poll questions using an audience response system goes a long way in setting the tone for communication: casual, comfortable, transparent.

Take Employee Input into Account

One of the biggest foundations of a truly effective informal company culture is the flexibility to grow and change over time. Rather than imposing rigid top-down rules, your organization must have the ability to grow from the ground up as needed. This approach opens up a unique opportunity for employees to help design policy, suggest changes and contribute feedback from on the ground. Boost morale by involving employees in decision-making at every level.

An informal company culture can be a huge draw to attract and retain talent because it tends to open up the gates for innovation and flexibility. Harnessing the benefits starts with better communication.

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