At its infancy, a small team is characteristic of a startup. So what’s the worst that can happen for a small team working towards a singular goal? Well, imagine when it turns out that everyone’s goals aren’t as aligned as they’d thought. In fact, a poorly formed team is among the top three reasons why most startups fail.

There’s no discounting the fact that a diverse skill set and industry-knowledgeable co-founders are necessary for an enterprise to even get started. However, more frequently neglected is the idea that a mix of individuals whose personalities and general ambitions, which takes them far beyond simply the creation of products and services, is also crucial.

While you might think, ya duh, obviously you need everyone to somewhat like each other for a team not to self-destruct, and something something synergy is key… but it goes a little deeper than that. It enters the realm of the individual and their sense of belonging to something larger than themselves.

The nature of those interpersonal relationships at work and the overall corporate culture is what helps one attach feelings to one’s work. And contrary to popular belief, business cares a lot about and dare I say it thrives on feelings.

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5 Ways a Corporate Culture is More Important Than You Might Have Imagined

1. Worker well-being

An employee’s happiness is directly related to their productivity at work, according to an IZA World of Labor report. In this study, a rise in individuals’ levels of happiness were shown to enhance productivity. Antecedent research also points to job satisfaction, enthusiasm, joy, and interest as direct affective influences on one’s overall performance and success.

These findings clearly show the importance of positive emotions in the workplace on creativity and productivity, so the question becomes: what can we do to prioritise worker well-being in our startups? If the implications to productivity are this substantial, surely we ought to be ensuring the centrality of employee welfare?

With the understanding that there can be considerable returns on investing in worker happiness, more startups can consider establishing, right from the beginning, inclusive company rituals and more generous policies. From company retreats and office parties, to wellness programmes and paid sick and parental leave, there are numerous ways your startup can promote your employees’ contentment and positive attitudes towards work.

For instance, Carousell, the homegrown P2P marketplace platform, makes it a point to facilitate recreation and team bonding among their employees through company workshops, as well as fun group activities beyond work, like karaoke sessions.

Image: Carousell SG via Instagram

2. Boosting morale

For young enterprises in particular, the typical employee’s compensation package may not be as stable as that in an older and more established company. How company culture can serve as a facet of a startup’s compensation scheme is by offering employees a strong sense of identity and belonging. Fulfilment at our jobs is in part contributed to by how important we feel we are to our company’s growth and success.

Knowing we hold vital positions motivates us to keep doing better and to stay in our jobs. In fact, research suggests that companies lacking in meaningful culture tend to have higher turnover rates. In that sense, both a startup’s productivity and employee retention rate can benefit from a rich company culture.

Image: Carousell PH via Instagram

Let’s take a look at Carousell again. Recently, the company brought their entire (internationally reaching!) team together for a #ONECarousell retreat. Not simply an opportunity for their employees to get to know one another in a relaxed setting, such retreats are moreover a way of orienting and aligning the overall culture as the company ventures overseas. Especially amid rapid expansion, employees should be reminded of their importance to the success of the company.

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3. The importance of relationships

When you are able to find meaningful relationships at work, you are more likely to want to invest your time and energy into being present at work. In the case of startups, where manpower tends to be lower and teams smaller, forming tight knit relations founded on high-energy interaction goes a long way. They encourage everyone to commit to the high demands of their jobs.

Creating an atmosphere of collaboration and dialogue among employees — yes, across departments as well  is key to enabling colleagues to learn from one another constantly.

Partially, it once again boils down to emphasising the significance of everyone’s perspectives and role in the startup. However, it is also about feeling energised by your work and what it can truly offer your career in the long term. One study indicates that individuals who are able to engage in ‘energetic activations’ with their coworkers, as opposed to low-energy ones, are less likely to quit their job.

4. Raising investors’ interest in your brand

The potential of a startup’s products or services as abstract concepts isn’t enough for investors. It’s not about your conceptualisations being too chim. It’s that mere conceptualisations are just not as trustworthy.

Investors put their money in startups whose visions they do not only believe in, but can tangibly see. These visualisations are most familiar to us in the form of detailed proposals and diagram-filled pitch presentations relating to product plans. But what enables investors to be convinced that your startup:

(a) is capable of executing these plans, and
(b) has sustainable growth in mind?

A large contributing factor would be company values. As Sembcorp Indsutries‘ Chief HR Officer Christine Zhou aptly put,

When a new company can help to ensure that every employee embraces the same basic values, that company can begin setting the tone for the future.

A distinguishably rich company culture helps draw in investors, who will be able to see that the startup and its employees possess solid direction and drive that are conducive to long-term growth.

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5. Building your public image

Aside from drawing in potential investors, your startup can do with the attention of the public as well. An attractive, one of a kind, company culture can compel two significant groups of people to find out more about your company: consumers and talent.

Just take a look at The Smart Local, an indie media publisher based in Singapore that is known not only for their local-centric travel, food, and lifestyle articles, but also for their vibrant and youthful culture. The company is rather famous on social media for their #TSLThemedThursdays, in which each of their departments participates in a typically funky dress-up contest on Thursdays.

Their Instagram posts show off the team’s looks with every theme, and the public can only imagine what Thursdays at their office must be like. Probably something akin to a costume party.

Image: The Smart Local via Instagram

Look in the comments and for the most part, you’ll see at least one person say, “I wanna join you guys!” Either that, or it’s “We should do this at my office!” The common sentiment from the public is that they’re intrigued, and they want to be a part of a company that makes creativity a habit. In their search for jobs, a strong company culture is one of the biggest factors that millennials seek. The Smart Local seems to have pinned theirs down.

Of course, not every company has to go all out with weekly costume parties or even prioritise this sort of rah-rah exuberance. Your startup can also place emphasis on collaboration, intellectual debates, compassion  you name it.

Thoughtfully consider your startup’s purpose, and determine among your co-founders what types of people you’ll need to hire to realise your goals. What kind of environment is necessary for them to flourish? How can you achieve it?

Don’t forget that it’s natural for your answers to evolve as your startup reaches each new stage of growth, so keep asking yourself these questions. Better yet, ask your team. Organise a workshop and get everyone onboard. After all, company culture starts from the people.

Does your startup have a strong corporate culture? Or perhaps none at all? Want to share what that’s like with us? Drop us an email at!

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