Most business owners figure out pretty early in the life of their business that they can’t succeed with a group of individuals.  There has to be some unity of purpose. Employees at successful companies don’t arrive at work each day and simply do what they’re told without understanding why they’re doing it, or how it contributes to the well-being of the company.

Which type of interactions lead to the best business results, and how employees should feel about each other, are up for debate.  Some companies refer to their employees as a “team.”  Some use “family.”  Some companies append “ers” to their name to refer to their employees.

Does it matter?  If these terms are just words on paper and nobody buys into them, it probably doesn’t.  But if you’re doing it right, it really does matter.  How hard is it to join the “family?”  What would your employees do to help a fellow “family” member?  When someone loses their job, does it feel like a “family” member is missing or a “team” member?

Or are they neither?  If they’re referred to as part of the “team” or “family” but are ultimately just a human resource, it will become an inside joke among your employees that their true status is being inflated to make recruiting easier or help HR and the executive team feel better.

Being a team or a family isn’t a recruiting ploy, unless you really like high turnover.  If you’re trying to build a culture that produces the best results, your employees need to care about each other’s success.  No matter what you call your employees, here are three characteristics your small or mid-size business’s work culture should have if it’s going to be successful.

Everyone knows where they are going

Imagine your company as a bus full of people.  There’s a driver, and a few people at the front with a map talking to the driver.  The bus periodically stops – some people leave because they’ve decided the bus isn’t comfortable, and some new people get on because it looks like a nice bus.  But other than a couple of people at the front, nobody really knows where the bus is going.

What type of people would get on a bus when they have no idea where it’s headed?  If your employees don’t understand what your business’s long-term goals are, then you might not like the answer to this question.

The most effective business teams (or families) don’t just know where they’re headed – they’re excited about it.  They know about the terrain the company expects ahead.  They understand how they will contribute to the journey, and they’re proud of those contributions.  And when a new person joins the company, they don’t wonder why they’ve been hired – they already know.

Your success is their success

How excited are your employees when the company has a banner year?  Do they feel responsible for that success or incidental?  Are they excited about the future of the company or just their year-end bonus?

If your employees see their own professional success as mostly detached from the performance of the company, that’s a problem.  It’s a sign that they work toward their individual goals rather than collective ones.  It’s a sign that they don’t see their professional development as dependent on your company’s growth.  That means there’s also a good chance they don’t see themselves at your company five years from now.

Make sure that your culture encourages a mindset of collective success.  This can be influenced in many ways, including goal-setting techniques, compensation systems and even taking a few minutes to celebrate the company’s successes whenever they occur.  And take every opportunity you have to explain what the company’s growth means for your employees if they make the effort to grow with it.

Office politics are minimal

Office politics aren’t productive.  They force people to protect their own well-being (or survival) instead of achieving business goals.  But even in the best-run offices, they’re impossible to eliminate.  Unfortunately, people’s own best interests aren’t always aligned with those of the company; even good employees will sometimes protect their own interests over the company’s.

That being said, if people are spending more time figuring out how to survive than how to thrive in your office, you’re not going to move forward.  Create shared goals rather than individual ones.  Build objective ways to measure performance.  Figure out who’s loved in your office, and who is feared. Most importantly, get rid of the toxic people.  It really doesn’t matter how good they are at their job – you’ll thank yourself later.

It’s important to note that all conflict isn’t political.  A well-balanced office has people with different skills, different ideas and different needs.  Conflict is healthy when it occurs in the context of business goals; if you suppress all dissent in your office, you won’t find out how bad an idea is until it is launched in full view of the public.

To learn how WingSwept can help your company boost performance through better use of technology, call us at 919-779-0954 or email us at