How To Build an EXCEPTIONAL Team Culture

I’ve asked hundreds of leaders to describe the best places they’ve worked. Compensation and vacation time consistently land toward the bottom of the list, if mentioned at all, while culture and feeling valued consistently land at the top.


I’ve been an employee on both ends of the spectrum: in organizations that were toxic, full of distrust, egos, and personal agendas, and organizations that were innovative, healthy, and thriving. I recall little about my to-do lists and daily work in those places, but I remember well how I felt as part of those teams. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine which experiences inspired my personal list of “what NOT to do” in leadership. Thankfully, I also have a long list of “what TO do” based on up-close observation of stellar leaders.

As a leader, you not only set the standard, you drive the process. Tenured or start-up, for-profit or nonprofit, CEO or department manager, 20 people reporting to you or hopefully 1 someday, your team’s culture starts with YOU.

We are familiar with large corporations able to provide sand volleyball courts, luxurious fitness centers, and free organic meals, but for most of us in the small business or start-up world, those perks are out of reach. Does that mean we are out of luck? Not at all.

Here are 3 ways to build an exceptional culture:

  1. Define it. Schedule a meeting with a cross-section of your team to clearly articulate your ideal culture. Start by brainstorming a laundry list of adjectives, then consolidate them into a few short statements about who you want to be as a company and what your employees can count on as part of your team.
  2. Repeat the vision. Find consistent opportunities to discuss all the ways your team is set apart by the ways “we” do things. Mentioning what “we” don’t do is just as important. Staff meetings, team huddles, and strategic planning sessions are all great places to incorporate vision casting for your culture.
  3. Tell stories. Stories shape culture, so tell all kinds of stories as often as you can. Tell stories from the early days so your team feels like they were there, even if they weren’t. Tell stories of failure. Your team needs to know not every idea was a win. Tell stories of success. From small to large, celebrate wins together. And finally, be sure to brag on your team members by telling specific stories of their accomplishments.

Every organization (and family, for that matter) has a culture. The key is to proactively build the culture you actually want, rather than settling for the one you will obtain by default.

Organizations are made up of people, and people determine culture. A thriving culture leads to thriving teams.

There’s good news: building an exceptional culture isn’t complicated. It simply requires consistent behaviors over time.

Don’t miss this download! I’m sharing 20 proven practical tips to get you started - they are simple and doable.

Join the conversation by commenting below: What characteristics define an exceptional team culture?