What I love about startups are the feelings of close community, collaboration, and emotional bonds found in the early stages of culture development.

Unfortunately, as companies grow exponentially, many lose their unique identity and the shared values that made them such great places to work. But it doesn't have to be that way.

The first thing I need tell you is that developing or sustaining your culture doesn't come from a to do list. It's not a system you implement. It's a mindset a leader must have to declare from her heart, "I'm going to foster the environment for a culture of caring, trust, and respect to develop." And by example, others catch on, and it spreads.

People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.  -- John C. Maxwell

How do you turn this idea into action? The Maxwell quote gives us plenty of clues. It starts with developing a community where leaders have their people's backs. Here's how great leaders do it:

1. They build community by developing strong relationships

This means investing time with your most valued employees to learn who they really are. In turn, this produces great collaboration.

But you need to get personal and learn who plays on your team. Let me ask you a question: How well do you know the people that work closest to you? Do you know the events of their lives that have shaped who they are today?

I mean, if you're going to be spending the better part of eight, ten, or twelve hours per day working alongside them, you might want to get to know them well. Do you know their dreams for the future? This is especially important for growing them as their leader.

2. They build community by listening exceptionally well.

In building up community, I can't stress enough the importance of listening to others. Here's what happens -- somewhere along the way to adulthood, we tend to stop listening and learning from others. In fact, it's worse than that. We organize systems and start telling everybody what to do, and then we call it leadership. Seriously!

This approach removes the need and the opportunity for your team to contribute -- to participate and collaborate on the outcomes. And the only way you're going to extend that opportunity and open up the door for these relationships to flourish, is to listen to the contributions of others.

3. They understand the importance of celebration in community.

You can't have strong communities if you don't celebrate accomplishments along the way -- big and small. Celebrations can be personal or professional, individual or team celebrations.

Never stop looking for ways to celebrate life together. This is the essence of community. What have you or what will you accomplish together that's a cause for celebration?  

4. They model transparency in virtual communities.

In this digital age, building community extends to connecting remote teams in a virtual community. Innovative leaders will utilize closed groups or a wiki within a company's intranet to share information, wins, concerns, ideas, and communicate regularly and in the moment.

Transparency and trust are key in developing virtual communities. What you share with one, you share with all. The intent is to get as close as you can to replicating the experience of being in an office together. There's a sense of togetherness there. And it starts with leaders modeling the behaviors of trust and transparency.

Hubspot, the global digital marketing automation company, redefined what it means to be transparent in business. They are now being recognized as having one of the greatest company cultures.

HubSpot co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Dharmesh Shah once published an article on his wiki page called "Ask Dharmesh Anything." And that's exactly what "HubSpotters" did -- engaging in a slew of discussions directly with their CTO.

Buffer, the social media company, will publish pretty much everything: financials, revenues, how your money is being spent, even salaries. Now that's on the radical side of transparency. But they share this with everyone in the hopes of becoming an authentic and trusted community.

5. They collaborate, and teach others to do the same.

Author Ken Blanchard says that the main barrier to a collaborative culture is silos -- people and departments hoarding information and power in a top-down hierarchy.

He shares five keys for successful collaboration from his book, Collaboration Begins with You. These are "silo busters" to work together toward a common goal:

Utilize differences. Actively seek different points of view, and encourage debate. Blanchard says conflict in collaborative groups is good and encouraged, as long as it focuses on the issues and doesn't get personal.

Nurture safety and trust. Trust is key to effective collaboration. Be sure you are accessible, authentic and dependable.

Involve others in crafting a clear purpose, values and goals. Leaders should work with others to create a clear purpose, values and goals (which should include collaboration!). Then hold each other accountable for sticking to those agreements.

Talk openly. This ties back into safety and trust. People need to know it's safe to express themselves, and that their opinions will be respected, says Blanchard.

Empower yourself and others. This means encouraging one another take initiative, develop new skills, and contribute their opinions, even if they disagree.

Closing Thoughts

The driving point I want to bring home is that there is immense power in building healthy communities at work and connecting to people in an relational, authentic level to produce results.

Why? Because relationships drive human satisfaction and performance -- we are wired for it. When leaders pave the way, collaboration, productivity, trust and morale will reach new heights.

Published on: Jul 27, 2016