The Secret Weapon for Building Great Culture


On Sunday, we witnessed an unbelievable finish to Super Bowl LI. Love the Patriots or hate them, they know how to win. Being a Colts fan, I’m personally not a card-carrying member of the Pats’ Fan Club (not even close), but the power of the Patriots’ culture is hard to deny. They have built a culture where winning is the norm, and anyone on the field is asked to contribute at the highest level – whether it’s the undrafted free agent making a crucial play or the nearly 40 year old Tom Brady still slicing up the opposing defense.

There’s no substitute for having engaged employees – the kind who will run through a wall for their colleagues. Yes, a job where people actually enjoy going to work every day, and can be counted on to deliver in the clutch.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a common sight in America’s workplaces. In fact, Gallup estimates only about one third of employees are actually engaged in their work.

I was fortunate to be part of ExactTarget’s phenomenal growth story and even more fortunate to be an early shaper of the culture that became so powerful that it warranted its own name, “Orange.” It was literally listed as a competitive strength in our S-1 filing with the SEC prior to taking the company public.

The startups I work with often ask about building culture. Everyone seems to be looking for the silver bullet, and I give them an answer they may not expect (or want).

So, how do you build an amazing company culture? Let me tell you what it is not – it isn’t the color of paint on the walls, the free snacks, the after hours beer keg, or the ping pong table. To be fair, I love all of these things, and I’m an incredible believer in space playing a major factor in the culture of an organization. However, many leaders unfortunately think they can just ‘do culture’ like a checklist of the items above, and a great culture magically appears on the other side.

I believe the biggest element to building culture is WINNING. It’s a matter of delivering on what you have signed up to do, time and time again. It’s keeping score and showing your employees how you’re doing, and how they are a part of the success. It’s never a straight line, and it’s never easy, but the incremental and monumental measures of success need to celebrated and broadcasted along the way. Don’t believe me? Tell me the name of a losing organization with great culture.

In summary, while winning doesn’t guarantee a great culture, it’s the #1 way to establish a great culture. Then consistently build shared trust and respect, creating an unstoppable flywheel of energy and shared success. Make winning a habit – it becomes the standard.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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7 thoughts on “The Secret Weapon for Building Great Culture

  1. Indeed. When you’re not winning even great cultures break. Unfortunate but that’s the nature of the beast. Certainly great culture leads to winning but not always the case in start-up world. Sports teams are close comparisons here – necessity to win or go home.

  2. “It’s a matter of delivering on what you have signed up to do, time and time again. It’s keeping score and showing your employees how you’re doing, and how they are a part of the success.”

    I think the “win” is in the leadership skill of being accountable. Yes, literally winning is nice but is not always possible. But even if a project, a sale or a deliverable does not result in a “win” it is very important for company culture to show your employee’s that you’re on board, engaged, and part of the journey, and to co-own the result without making excuses or playing the blame game. It will show your team it is not “us” (leadership) vs. “them” (the troops).

  3. Nice article Tim. Your point of habitual winning is the key or as another VC recently told me, “the rhythm of winning” is critical to creating the unstoppable flywheel. I look forward to reading more from you!