Most of us who run a business started small. Agathon started as a part-time business in 1999. It was a company of three partners, like-minded individuals who all lived in the same area of the country. We even worked together at our day job!
Early on, we were able to define a strong company culture. We established Agathon as the kind of place where everyone is valued, the best argument wins, good work is paramount, and transparency breeds trust.
But maintaining a company culture doesn’t happen magically. As we’ve grown—slowly, intentionally—we’ve needed to create a number of habits in order to protect that culture.
Communication is critical
The strength of any relationship hinges on the communication within that relationship. Consider a marriage: when spouses communicate clearly, honestly, and often, the relationship tends to be strong. Running a business is no different, only it involves more than just one relationship between two people. (There is one relationship in a group of two people. But there are six relationships in a group of four people and fifteen in a group of six!) As a result, communication in business quickly becomes much more complex as that business grows.
When Agathon was just three partners, it was easy to assume we knew what each partner was thinking. We spent a ton of time together, we had similar goals and drive, and we had used all of that to define our business (including in our articles of incorporation).
But as we grew, so did our communication. We realized every question left unasked, and every understanding left assumed, is a potential point of confusion in the future. And the longer you go without that communication, the more likely confusion will lead to people feeling uninvolved or unvalued. Since part of the reason Agathon exists is to nurture our team, we commit ourselves to as much communication as possible in order for our team to feel involved and valued!
Look for opportunities to break the monotony
When your company is in a growth cycle, you might feel pressured to encourage everyone to put their heads down and just “push through” the growing pains. It’s easy to focus on “more/better/bigger” and lose sight of the fact that your team is, indeed, human! And humans often need a break from the monotony and routine of daily work life.
This doesn’t just mean you should do something like Hawaiian Shirt Fridays—though that might be a great fit for your company! It means ensuring everyone knows that while there is certainly a season for making a concerted push, there also has to be an end.
For Agathon, since we are 100% remote, it means having periodic face-to-face meetings. These include weekly check-ins over video chat, weekly in-person workdays, monthly departmental video calls, and biannual retreats. These breaks in the heads-down work keep us from feeling trapped in our silos, unable to relate with others in the company.
As we continue to grow (including past the point where it’s possible for everyone to know everyone else), these become increasingly important for maintaining our company culture.
Take your temperature from time to time
A growing business is a changing business, and you change right along with it. Agathon is not the same company today as it was in 1999, and not just in terms of numbers. Our culture and vision have evolved over time. But it’s not enough to simply let them evolve and hope for the best.
It’s important to periodically take your own temperature to see how well you’re aligning with the culture and vision of your company. It’s also important to take the temperature of your company to see where the changes to the culture and vision have naturally taken place. Like a bonsai tree, you should encourage the growth that supports company health and prune the growth that threatens it.
This sort of introspection (within yourself, as well as within your team) is a form of communication. And to reiterate: communication doesn’t happen naturally or unintentionally. You have to pursue this introspection, as with any other form of communication, with intent, frequency, transparency, and integrity. This allows your company culture to mature in healthy ways right alongside the company itself.
Growth is hard, but hard can be good too
Running a business isn’t easy, and running a growing business can be downright hard. But forming strong habits can facilitate that growth and ensure it happens in sustainable, healthy ways.
Communicating frequently and clearly, breaking the monotony of the daily grind, and checking in on the health of your company and its culture communicates to your team that they matter. And despite whatever chaos you might be experiencing through growth in your business, recognizing and protecting that value in yourself and your team is great for your soul.