What is Startup Culture ?

Organizational culture is important for all kind of companies. For Startups, the high-risk ones, keeping it under control is mandatory. We…

Updated on 2020-04-20


Bobsleigh team.

Organizational culture is important for all kind of companies. For Startups, the high-risk ones, keeping it under control is mandatory. We can see the difference using Soccer and Bobsleigh teams.

While for a soccer team, keeping the values, expectations and behaviors aligned is important. for a Bobsleigh team, any misalignment may be fatal.

For example, if someone doesn’t follow the rules during one or few soccer matches, it might not have a relevant impact. On the other hand, Bobsleigh teams are always under high-risk situations. They’ve taken a lot of decisions in a short period of time. Most theses decisions have a huge impact on their performance. Even their decisions by “instinct” must be well done. In other words, they need to control all aspects related to their job.


You can find a lot of different definitions of organizational culture. Although accurate, most of these definitions are abstract, generating obstacles to understanding and applying.

Quoting Business dictionary, organizational culture is:

The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.

A great and short definition was made by professor Philip Stiles. He states:

Shared values, artifacts and underlying assumptions of a firm.

Let’s make clear some important points:

  1. All visible is part of culture. For example, the office, logo, website, products, etc. This is the easy part to understand.
  2. Almost everything the company says about itself belongs to the culture. Mantras, vision, mission, slogans, internal rules, etc. This is not so easy to understand. For instance, if a company’s vision isn’t shared among the employees, it isn’t part of culture indeed.
  3. Almost all thoughts about the company and shared society behaviors are part of the culture. For example: when employees are afraid to make mistakes; or when a lot of people think is normal being late for a meeting. This is hard to see. And, it composes a huge part of the culture, specially on the beginning of a company.

Culture is everywhere

Right link is

I really agree with the statement that culture is the soul of a company. Like a soul, it always exists. Good sources to see how not handle the culture can affect negatively the company are the books: The power of habits and Better by mistakes.

There are no habit-free organizations. There are just places where they aren’t deliberately conceived and places where they are created with no planning.> Charles Duhigg, The Power Of Habit

Hiring, retention, productivity, accountability, learning, and other aspects are affected by culture. Sometimes founders don’t understand what is wrong in their companies, why they cannot hiring good people, or why they have a lot of problems, etc. Mostly, it’s related to culture and they cannot see.

Is your culture most intentional or accidental ?

Culture is about the written and unwritten rules. It’s about what the company does, not what the founder writes or wants that everyone does.

In that way, always the culture has a part that is accidental. It’s based on the founder mindset, the leader’s way, the employee habits, etc. However, each startup has different points that should be intentionally defined in the culture. Such as: accountability; client relationship; or hiring, among others.

What do you do to program the important points in your startup ?

Corporate culture aspects

A culture aspect is a problem-solution pattern. A set of this aspects composes a specific company culture.

An isolated aspect doesn’t represent a company culture. Thus, take care when you copy anything from another company because you may not be seeing what is the real problem behind the solution.

When a company is programming its culture, it should write exactly what it wants that happen. Not only writing the solution but make clear the problems as well. For example:

Desirable behavior

Everyone is responsible for her own work planning. After created, you must share with your team.

In order to

Control your production and understand your own “bottlenecks”. Handle your risks. Use the team knowledge.

Not acceptable

Not doing it. Not saying, as soon as possible, if you have a problem to do it. Not saying if you don’t know how to do it.We know that it’s not magic, so it takes a time to, in fact, work. Training, mentoring, pair programming, and so on, are useful techniques to support the learning.

Below I will present some applied examples.

Empowering Employees


Specialization is going to create obstacles to solving a problem quickly. For example, if a client has a problem and she asked any employee to help her.

Some behaviors

The employee says that she needs to go to another part of the company, or tells to talking to somebody else. The client feels insecure, sometimes gets angry and almost always creates a negative image of the company.

Desirable behavior

The employee tries to address directly the problem. The client will feel more secure and will trust in the company.


Empowering employees. Create tools to support the team to help the clients. Give freedom to the employees.


You can see it in some companies such as Disney (advanced mode). They have an impressive and evolved organizational culture.

In a small scale, you can see it in a Brazilian company called Dr. Consulta. This health company is changing the market in Brazil using a great organizational culture.Culture is the base of your company, so don’t let it grows anyway. Start focusing on five small aspects that you need to do right. After, improve step by step. Always be sincere with yourself.

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