How to Make Your Culture Ready for Growth: 4 Tips to Avoid “Growing Pains” and Build a Company Culture that Scales

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4 min

Written by: Tobias Günther

Trying to grow a company is the ultimate stress test.
Not only for founders and leaders — but also for a company’s culture.

You’ll quickly see if it’s mature and stable, or rather messy and fragile:

  • Is it a (relatively) smooth and safe process?
  • Or will all hell break loose — with stress, mistakes, and conflicts all rising?

Obviously, you want to avoid the second scenario at all costs.
But how can you tell if your culture is ready for growth?

When Cultures Are NOT Ready for Growth

Let’s approach this from the opposite side: let’s identify when a culture is NOT ready for growth! Here are a couple of signs:

⚡️ The company still depends very much on the founder(s).

You can tell by looking closely at certain situations: in meetings, for example, is there a difference if the founder is in the room or not? What happens when the founder is on vacation? Does the organization work, communicate, and “feel” differently in these situations?

⚡️ People in different areas / departments of the company act differently.

You can tell, for example, by looking at your meetings: how are meetings held in different sub-teams? How do people speak to each other in this team vs. in another team? Is there a common thread in how leaders act and treat their colleagues?

⚡️ Culture is something which different people interpret differently.

You can tell by striking up a conversation about your organization’s culture with different people. Is there a shared understanding of what “culture” is (or should be) in your company? Is there a clear agreement on how people want to work together and treat each other? Is there awareness for this topic at all?

⚡️ Not much (or nothing) has been written down.

You can tell by taking a looking at your intranet wiki: is there (ample!) documentation about cultural topics? Are there written explanations of how your team conducts meetings, how you want to communicate, or how you think about time off?

If you see these signs in an organization, you know it’s not ready for growth, yet. If it tries to grow anyways, it will — as certain as death and taxes — face serious problems!

So how do you prevent these problems?!

How to Make Your Culture Ready for Growth

There are things you can do to prepare your organization — and its culture — for growth.

1. Create a deliberate culture

In many companies (even in post-growth states), culture is still a mystery. Something that people can’t express in words. And, consequently, something that’s very fragile and haphazard. To be ready for growth, you’ll have to create a deliberate culture.
👉 Put it into action: Talk to your team about how you want this organization to work, look and feel! Only when you talk about it can you start shaping it, deliberately.

2. Make it independent of the founder(s)

An organization’s culture shouldn’t depend on its founders. Heck… it shouldn’t depend on *any single individual*! Because it’s then completely at the mercy of these individuals, for better or worse. And this is not a stable basis for growth.
👉 Put it into action: Step by step, founders should “retreat” and leave it to their team to run the show. How? Let someone else run the next meeting. Invite others to present at the next Town Hall. Have a colleague make a certain decision instead of yourself…

3. Make it tangible

Culture sometimes gets a bad rep for being “touchy-feely” or “soft as butter”. But this is only true when it hasn’t been translated into concrete, tangible actions. E.g. it’s nice if your team agrees that “trust” is important to everyone… but what does it actually mean, in your everyday interactions?
👉 Put it into action: Focus not only on lofty “values”. Make sure your culture becomes concrete and tangible — by creating habits, processes, and rules.

4. Document it

Until it has been written down, your culture is fragile. It’s open to individual interpretation. And in this state, you won’t get the results you hope for.
👉 Put it into action: Write things down! Most organizations at least document important processes. But the most successful organizations go beyond that: they document their *culture* as well! Only then will people have something they can rely on and refer to.

Put Your Seat Belt on Before You Step on the Gas

Have you ever heard the term “growing pains” in the context of organizations? It’s what happens when you try to grow a company whose culture isn’t ready for growth, yet.

But it’s a type of pain you can avoid.
Make sure your company’s culture is ready before you grow it.

Don’t step on the gas before you’ve put the seat belt on.

Take care,

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