What is Company Culture?

The concept of “company culture” has received intense focus and attention in recent years. But for all the ink that has been spilled exploring the concept and approaching it from different angles, it has remained notoriously difficult to define.

Rather than trying to give it a dictionary definition, it might be easier to think of it metaphorically. Picture a coral reef. It’s made up of countless different types of flora and fauna, each making a distinct contribution to an overall ecosystem that is completely unique.

You can’t point to any one fish or plant and say that single example defines what the coral reef is. But at the same time, if you took away just one fish or plant, the reef would be changed, and the delicate balance that it relies upon would be thrown out of harmony.

In an abstract way, that is exactly what company culture is like. It is the combination of policies, practices, values, projects, and people that all combine into something that is wholly distinct. These elements can be spoken or unspoken, obvious or subtle, intentional or accidental, and positive or negative. Regardless, each element makes a unique and essential contribution to the character of the whole.

When asked to define company culture, some companies point to their mission statement. And while that‘s a start, and not irrelevant, mission statements rarely capture the dynamism, vibrancy, and complexity that truly typifies company culture. How often do mission statements reference the laid back dress code? Have you ever read one that talks about the legendary Christmas party from a few years back? Can any mission statement capture the electric energy that courses through a team on the brink of a breakthrough? No, but all of these are essential, and often indefinable elements of company culture.

Returning to the coral reef metaphor, part of the reason that it is so difficult for even insiders to define company culture is that it’s difficult to see the parts rather than the sum. You look at a coral reef and you see a massive, teeming life form, but you don’t tend to linger on the constituent parts. Company culture is the same way. You know your company has a culture, that it’s unique, and that it has a huge effect on the way you operate. But figuring out the makeup of that culture, where it came from, how it evolved, and how each team member contributes to it is a lot more difficult.

Company culture may be hard to define, but it’s impossible to ignore. Successful companies make a real effort to foster a positive culture, inject it into every one of their initiatives, and to grow in a way that doesn’t compromise their values.

These reasons exemplify why it is crucial for companies to hire for a strong cultural fit. If you are ready to make company culture a priority in your office, access the unique resources available through CultureFit by contacting our experienced IT recruiters today.