A start-up approach to building authentic culture we can all learn from.
Okay, so it is actually called Show and Teal (a title lovingly adopted from the kindergarten classic--show and tell...but branded of course).
As some of you may know I am passionately employed by Teal HQ, an emergent tech start-up disrupting the job search industry in that we aim to get people the tools, support and community they crave at a price they can afford during what could otheriwise be one of the most stressful experiences in life -- unemployment.
I joined the team in April (then 6 people) as the founding Career Guide and we launched into the unsettling landscape of COVID-19.
They seemed nice but let's face it, it's hard to know what you are doing when you start a new job and it takes a lot more than "nice" to steer a startup into a storm. None of us saw helping 1000 people land jobs in 6 weeks coming.. but, sure enough, the moment called for a massive effort and we collectively pulled it off (with the help of a few new hires and a lot of love from the growing Teal community).
While we were in the business of doing all the doing....culture started to happen. The way culture does when you aren't looking. People talk a lot about designing it, shaping it and the most popular taglines make it seem like you can buy for the right price. The thing is though, culture happens because of the people..for better and for worse. In this case, it was for the better.... we leaned into Slack, rejected the awkward attempt at "virtual water cooler time" and kept working together. We set goals and accomplished them. We celebrated. We took pause. We reflected.
Then we started to grow.
Now, this is the part about culture, it isn't static...just because it feels good, and productive and safe ...it is vulnerable and not something to be taken for granted. Strong team culture requires us to nurture it, support it, and consistently pour water back in as the well dries.
As we grow, we have to be more intentional too. As the team grows, our culture has to grow with it. The people shape the culture and we have to know each other to keep shaping it.
Enter Show and Teal.
Now, the six original folks have still never met me in person. As far as they know I am a floating head they hired on Zoom. So add another 7 and we are at 13 employees from three different time zone all committed to helping people find fulfilling work. A large task for a relatively small team, you can see why there might not be enough time in the week for "culture building"--- WRONG.
Luckily, our fearless captain has sailed before and knows that there is always time for knowing each other, but it has to be a priority. Dave Fano, our CEO and Founder previously led CASE where he began the tradition of lunchtime Show and Tell. Little did I know, this activity would transform the way I know and think about my teammates.
Every week one of us has the opportunity to share a slide deck of our own design with the rest of the team. There are no rules, restrictions or parameters...just thirty minutes to tell others whatever we want about ourselves. What a task.
At first, we may have felt nervous.
What do I include? What is too much? What is too little? Yes, these are the thoughts that flurried through my mind the week I was up to go. The preparation involved combing through old family photos, picking out monumental moments that made me who I am today and screenshotting my favorite hangouts in NYC where I would be out with my partner if we weren't five months into quarantine.
When I shared, there was a moment where I thought...what do they think now?
Then the slacks came. The ones that made me feel like I belong. Co-workers noting they had similar interests, and that they also knew what it felt like to be proud of being a first-generation college grad. Suddenly, they weren't just other heads in a Brady Bunch square, they were people who wanted to know me.
I feel the same way, week over week hearing my colleagues share. I feel closer, more connected. I feel willing to put in the hard work of communicating openly,and virtually because it's with them.
This is what they mean when they say strong culture, it is the willingness to do the hard, messy work of learning together while prioritizing mutual respect and belonging.
It doesn't mean ice breakers all day, expensive retreats, or even endless weeks of vacation. It means that together we build an intentional culture where people feel welcome to be themselves and bring the best of their talents to the table every day.
So how does this story end? I'm not sure...it's September, so we have a long way to go. One thing I know for sure is that we are all on a journey toward career fulfillment and for a lot of us, fulfillment is tied to belonging. I have worked many places and it is harder to find than most would hope.
As we work day in and day out to connect job seekers to work that fulfills them I ask this...
If it isn't Show and Teal, what can we be doing to build more opportunities for people to be seen and heard at work?
However virtual work may be.