By: Briony Robertson , Head of People at Tillo
Although “team culture” is a topic that gets a lot of airtime, especially over the last few years, with teams adapting to remote or hybrid working environments, it’s fair to say that it is something many organisations are still struggling with.
As lockdowns meant employees had the chance to reflect on what’s important to them and being remote offered a wider range of opportunities, companies that didn’t prioritise their team’s welfare and the culture within the business lost out.
At Tillo, we are very lucky because investing in and maintaining our culture as we grow has been a priority right from the beginning – it’s not an afterthought. We would never claim to be perfect; however, we have put a lot of thought into maintaining our culture as we embraced hybrid working and as our team has experienced rapid growth.
As the innovative digital gift card platform ending the battle between loyalty and acquisition by helping businesses reward existing customers and attract new fans, a culture that aims to surprise and delight is at the very core of what we do. Here’s the advice I would give to other scale-ups looking to foster a winning company culture, based on my experience as Head of People at Tillo.
10 steps to build and scale a positive team culture
1. Invest in a People Team
I joined Tillo when there were only 16 people in the company, and we are now around 80 – with a People Team of three and about to hire a fourth.
Having a dedicated people function that grows as your company scales is essential not just from a hiring perspective but also to champion your team culture, make onboarding as smooth as possible, support your team’s mental health, and much more.
We tend to use the term “People Team” rather than “HR”. There is a growing move away from HR as employers want to signify that their employees aren’t simply resources, but people who can bring their whole selves to work. We think it does a better job of conveying our purpose as a team.
2. Prioritise mental health
One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year (Mind). That is 25% of your workforce.
Mental Health needs to be at the top of your agenda. So how can you create a culture that’s open, supportive, non-judgemental and continue to shine a light on mental health?
One of the most important things you can do to help your team is to listen with empathy.
We currently have 12 trained Mental Health Champions (MHC) and encourage our teams to have honest and open conversations. Our MHC blog, where members of the team, including those in senior leadership roles, share their experiences has helped with this.
We received a lot of feedback that the blog helps normalise conversations about mental health. We share some vulnerable experiences in the hope that other team members realise “it’s not just me that feels this way”.
3. Hire people you trust
At Tillo, we’re really good at being open and not letting our culture slip. We have a lot of trust, and there is no judgment as to where people are working on a daily basis – whether they want to be in the office all the time or not. We like to promote flexibility too; we are all people with responsibilities and commitments outside of work.
It’s not about just being present at your laptop for the set hours; people can work their other commitments into their schedule and don’t need to feel guilty about doing so. If you can only get a dentist appointment in the middle of the day, that’s fine. Or if you need to drop off or collect your kids from nursery or school, you shouldn’t feel guilty about needing to do so.
4. Work on your onboarding and offboarding processes
How people enter and leave your organisation is very important. Getting both processes right leaves a lasting impression and means you might find those top employees will even come back to work for you after spending a few years elsewhere!
We have put a lot of effort into our onboarding process – from the lovely, branded box that new starters receive to giving each new starter an intro session with each of the different teams. It is really important to get it right from the get-go to help team members feel like a part of the team as quickly as possible.
We like to foster a culture where everyone, including the most senior members of the team, always welcome questions and are happy to help.
To help the team get to know our new starters we share brief profiles in our monthly e-newsletter that feature a person’s name, role, what they were doing previously and a fun fact.
5. Adapt your culture for hybrid
Because we already had a strong sense of culture, we adapted to remote working quite well at the start of the pandemic. Our team was a bit smaller back then and we did a weekly quiz – with a prize for the winner at the end. We would send them a present, a gift card or something silly. For example, Steven got a wooden spoon for a baking competition!
Sometimes these activities don’t scale easily so we’ve had to adapt as our team grows internationally. We try to have a mix of remote and physical events. During mental health awareness week, we had two physical events and two remote events to try and cater to as many people as possible.
It’s about finding the right mix and what works for your team; some things will stick, and some won’t. We run quarterly surveys to give everyone the chance to provide feedback. Certain teams might keep their own events running. For example, our developers have a “planning poker” once a month where the whole tech team gets together and scores the next lot of projects they’re going to work on.
6. Reward, delight and surprise your team
Along with compensating your team well – (we also give our team members share options, which provides a sense of shared ownership, and we have a bonus scheme in place) – it’s important to delight and surprise them with rewards.
As a digital gift card platform, we of course use digital gift cards to reward and thank our team. Tillo also powers a number of employee rewards platforms, like Reward Gateway. There’s a lot of evidence that moments of delight like giving a digital gift card can help foster long-term loyalty among employees and customers.
The best thing about digital gift cards is that the team will use them to treat themselves to something that they wouldn’t usually buy which makes it feel like more of a treat or a luxury. For example, we shared a surprise £250 gift card with our team at Christmas and they really enjoyed deciding what to spend it on.
And it’s not always about the value, it’s about sharing a little joy with someone. During the pandemic, we replicated our Friday team lunches by sending people a Just Eat or Deliveroo voucher to enjoy at home.
7. Celebrate your team
It’s also important to celebrate your team and their more personal milestones – not just their achievements. We send our team presents for their birthdays and their work anniversaries.
Our People Business Partner, Hannah, has a knack for choosing personalised presents for each team member – whether it’s a box of brownies, a subscription, or a handpicked digital gift card.
Some people might think that buying a gift card doesn’t show someone you know them – but I’d actually argue that it’s the opposite. We’ll do the research and get someone a gift card for a store that relates to their hobby or interest outside of work. I’m someone that’s really hard to buy for so my team knows that I’ll be happiest with a gift card so I can pick out something that I’ll really use. It is great to be able to have that choice and give our team members a choice on what they spend it on.
8. Use tech to support your culture
Remember that rewards should be paired with recognition. A nice message or sharing some praise in a group channel can really go a long way.
We celebrate all sorts of team wins in a dedicated Slack channel – from birthdays to promotion announcements, work wins and Tilloversaries.
Another way we have gotten to know each other is through our “Ask-Me-Anything” channel, where each new starter takes a turn in the hot seat. Think “do you prefer sweet or savoury” or “which Disney Princess would you do away with?”
We probably actually know far more about each other than we did face-to-face because when you’re in the office you tend to take for granted that you have your colleague right there to ask questions – whether it’s a work or a personal question.
We have the luxury of being hybrid, so we can choose to have important conversations in person and mix things up so that people don’t feel too zoom-fatigued.
9. Align your team around clear goals
Ensuring your team are all working towards the same goals and are intentional in their activities is also an important aspect of fostering a strong culture – so that people aren’t pulling in lots of different directions.
At the end of the year, our Strategic Leadership Team gets together to set the strategy and direction, and then our CEO shares these with the company in January. He also shares them with all new starters so that everyone is aware of the core goals for the year and people have the opportunity to ask questions and understand the priorities and how we got there.
10. Hire around core values
When we were smaller it was easier to control the company culture as the core values feed down easily from the top. However, as we have grown we have recognised the importance of hiring managers with the same view of how to lead.
You don’t want one team to become isolated or have a very different experience of Tillo so we hire managers that have the same culture fit.
It’s important that everyone in the organisation understands and is intentional about the core values that define your culture. As part of our onboarding process, we share our core values with new team members:
- Remarkable passion. Our team goes above and beyond. We’re customer-first and want our customers to have the best experience. We carry out tasks with conviction and passion.
- Collaborative and supportive. We’re open, respectful, and we discuss and solve challenges together. We’re all human and kindness is essential.
- Intentional and thoughtful. We’re thoughtful and deliberate in our actions but we’re not afraid to innovate and try new things.
- Surprise and delight. We’re in the business of delivering rewards. Surprising and delighting is at the core of everything we do.
- Drive for results. It’s ok to fail, but we learn from it. Failure is an essential part of growth. We welcome feedback and are always laser-focused on our goals.
Don’t underestimate the power of a strong culture
The remote vs. in-office debate is still going strong on LinkedIn; but one thing the arguments often overlook is the importance of a strong, trusting and flexible culture. Employees that feel valued, empowered and able to bring their full selves to work are more likely to stay with your organisation and contribute more – regardless of where they’re actually carrying out the work.
Prioritising team culture benefits every aspect of your business – from your productivity, growth and cross-team collaboration to your hiring efforts as people share their positive experiences with their network. You’ll also reduce churn and find that your customer satisfaction scores reflect the atmosphere within your team.
It is important not to take your foot off the gas. To maintain a winning culture, your organisation needs to continue to make culture a strategic priority.
Remember, ultimately, happy employees help your company win.