5 Keys to Building a Thriving Culture

Updated: Jun 4

All great organizations, have healthy cultures. Big and small, they have figured out healthy ways to work together. Simplified, organizational culture is just that - the way you do work together.

For better and worse, your workplace culture is a collection of implicit and explicit norms. It’s the sum of values and behaviors that flavor your teams. The healthier those collected practices get, the stronger your culture - and this has huge impacts.

I know because I’m doing it now.

As a coach, I help teams get stronger, and get on mission together.

In the classroom, I equip undergrads with the habits and practices that undergird thriving workplace cultures.

As the Chief Operating Officer at Santa Barbara Zoo where, alongside an incredible team of nearly 200 employees and over a thousand annual volunteers, I get to serve and inspire nearly a half-million guests each year.

Figuring out how to do work together - how to be a team, how to treat one another - is a really big deal.

If you’re a Peter Drucker fan, you’re familiar with his “culture eats strategy for breakfast” line. Without the right folks working together in healthy ways, even the past strategy will remain un-implemented.

If you prefer Seth Godin’s notion that “Culture is strategy,” you’re already convinced and ready to develop a thriving culture in your own team.

Developing a thriving culture takes intention.

If your organization is like most, you’ve watched as culture just sort of happened. Like a backyard garden left unattended, workplace habits and practices develop on their own. If you have people, they will behave in particular ways and establish particular habits. With or without your attention, your workplace culture will grow. When left unattended, your workplace may produces some fruit alongside thistles and weeds.

But if you tend the garden - making sure the soil, sun, and water are there, prune properly, pull weeds at the right time, and on - you’ll end up with a bountiful harvest and a lot less thistle.

Just think - what would less thistles and more fruit mean for your team? How would a healthier culture impact your business?

Without getting into the weeds (see what I did there?), having a healthy workplace culture will:

  • increase employee loyalty,

  • improve retention,

  • accelerate trust,

  • generate bonds of support, team, & family,

  • attract talent, and

  • turn employees into advocates.

It’s in the tending that you shape the habits and practices you want to see in your workplace. You have the power to identify what’s not working and introduce alternative habits and practices.

It’s not easy, but you can develop a thriving culture at your workplace.

know it’s not easy because I’ve lived in the thistles. I’ve seen unhealthy cultures from the inside out - as an employee, a founder, and a coach. I’ve also seen them transformed into bountiful harvests.

So, what are the 5 keys to building a thriving culture at your workplace or startup?

Healthy workplace cultures:

  1. Get folks on mission together

  2. Provide clarity from the top

  3. Build relationships on trust

  4. Develop culture reinforcing support systems

  5. Keep feeding the culture regularly

If you're looking for a step-by-step guide to help you build an amazing culture at your company, you're in luck! I'll be unpacking each of these 5 keys in a blog post of their own.

I'm also launching a new book (this summer) that covers this ground in much greater depth - breaking these 5 keys into twenty-four chapters jam-packed with practical examples and tangible steps you can take to build a thriving culture with your team.

Sound good? I hope so. Let’s get to it.

Next: 4-Step Process for Getting On Mission Together


© 2013 by A.R.MARSHALL, PhD