How can you make people feel like
they are valued and important parts of
Let the Culture Expand
From the Top Down
As leader of the team, you have significant influence over your team’s
culture. You can institute policies and
procedures that help make your team
happy and productive, monitor team
successes, and continually improve
Another important part of team culture, however, is helping people feel
they are a part of creating it. How can
you expand the job of creating a culture
to other team members?
Look for opportunities to delegate
whenever you can. If a holiday is coming up, maybe you could ask a team
member to help organize a team dinner. Look for people with unique perspectives (who maybe aren’t heard
from as often as others) and give them
a platform to share.
This is where truly great leadership
comes from. You establish a culture
that enables your team to be the best it
can be, and then you allow the team to
take that culture and run with it.
How amazing could your team be
with just a few adjustments?
Culture Surprises in Remote Software
Judith S. Olson and Gary M. Olson
Stand and Deliver: Why I Hate Stand-Up
Phillip A. Laplante
1. Coyle, D. The Culture Code. Bantam, 2018; http://
2. Felps, W., Mitchell, T., and Byington, E. How, when,
and why bad apples spoil the barrel: Negative group
members and dysfunctional groups. Research in
Organizational Behavior 27 (2006), 175–222.
Kate Matsudaira ( katemats.com) is an experienced
technology leader. She has worked at Microsoft and
Amazon and successful startups before starting her own
company, Popforms, which was acquired by Safari Books.
Copyright held by author/owner.
Publication rights licensed to ACM.
Other questions to consider: What
are the advantages of being a team?
What can we do because we are working together? Maybe it is so team
members can learn from each other
and do better work; there is more
learning when there is collaboration.
Maybe it is decision making; we make
smarter decisions when we have multiple viewpoints. Maybe it is about
resources; we can do more with combined skills and time.
How to Create Cultural
Touchpoints Around Your Values
Once you know the value of your
team, then you can start building in
elements that support its values.
Let’s say you decide that one of the
values of your team is peer mentoring; in other words, one of the reasons your team exists is so that its
members can do better work by learning from one another. Now, how do
you make that happen on your team?
You cannot just say “We learn
from each other” during a meeting
and make it happen. You have to institute processes that make this a
simple part of daily life on your team.
Think about which kinds of forums
you can set up to help people learn
from one another. Do you want to
encourage questions in team chat?
Set up a code-review process? Establish a cadence of brown bags to share
lessons learned? Read whitepapers
and discuss them as a group? What
makes sense for your team?
Now let’s say that another value of
your team is decision-making; your
team exists because everyone’s input helps to make smarter decisions
about what to work on and how to
work on it. We all know that the more
people are involved in a decision, the
more complicated it becomes to get
a clear answer. So, how do you benefit from getting everyone’s input
without becoming a team that can
get nothing done because no one
The solution might be to have all
decision-making done in the same
way. For example, you might institute a
format for all reports. That way, the input from various individuals or departments will all come to you in the exact
same way, so you can quickly parse the
information and make a decision.
Team Structure Becomes
Team culture is not just wearing the
same t-shirts at the company picnic.
The way you do things every day is what
builds your culture.
So, while streamlining the way your
team formats their reports might not
feel like it has much to do with team
culture, it does. It is a way of steering
your team to work together, by prioritiz-ing the values that your team supports.
Culture is in the everyday. It is the
small actions that you and everyone on
your team takes on a daily basis—the
way they speak to each other, the way decisions get made, the way they run meetings—that make up your team culture.
I have seen many amazing examples
of culture-building throughout my career. Here are just a few more ideas that
might inspire you as you build your
• Weekly demo meetings. Have someone from the team share a recent accomplishment. This could be a big
thing, or even something as small as
changing a button color on the website. This creates a culture of sharing
work so that people feel more collaborative even outside the meeting setting,
since they know what other people are
• Teaching slots for every team
member. At every team meeting, have
people sign up to share something
they’ve learned recently or teach something to the team. This is a great way for
people who have been to conferences
or read interesting books to share that
knowledge, and it helps give everyone on
the team a voice (even those who don’t
normally speak up during meetings).
• Cupcakes for launches. Mark every
team win by bringing people together—literally together, around a plate
of cupcakes, instead of just via email.
This creates a culture of celebration,
where people’s successes are noticed
and rewarded, and where the whole
team celebrates together.
Some of the decisions you make
will feel big and some will feel small.
But whether it’s as huge as developing an online help tool for your team
or as small as sharing cupcakes after a
big win, the effect is the same. Culture
comes from shared experiences. The
what doesn’t matter nearly as much as