Growth, Support and Family Feud — What Makes Company Culture Great?

Full-time members of the workforce spend at least 40 hours a week on the clock. For our own good, we should probably like being there.

But finding metrics to assess our enjoyment of work — and the company culture that facilitates our holistic experiences — isn’t easy. Open communication, autonomy, trust and opportunity for growth are all significant pieces of the puzzle that require conscious notation and improvement to keep a company culture strong. But humans aren’t built to think about work all the time — it’s healthy to take mental and social breaks during the workday.

As such, there’s another critical piece that makes a culture work: fun.

“Getting to know peers on a personal level is essential — we dedicate a lot of time to work, so we should have fun doing it,” said Cecilia Seiden, VP of strategic planning at credit reporting agency and global insights company TransUnion. “Small talk in the first minutes of meetings, sidebar conversations and memes on Teams keep things entertaining.”

Every company practices fun in its own ways. Insurance technology company Snapsheet, for example, utilizes Motivosity to provide public, and sometimes monetary, appreciation for team members. Meanwhile, Level Ex leans on its gaming expertise — its office is littered with card games, board games and a TV connected to as many consoles as possible.

“The games that we create use the neuroscience of play to advance the practice of medicine,” said Mary Beth Wynn, Level Ex’s VP of people and culture. “But the games we play as coworkers are just about having fun, bonding and of course, bragging rights.”

Built In sat down with Seiden, Wynn and Snapsheet Software Engineering Manager Eugene Lorman to learn more about what makes their company’s culture special. These leaders spoke about the communicative, respectful culture around their work, but also about the things that make the company a fun place to spend one’s time.

 

Cecilia Seiden

VP of Strategic Planning

 

For TransUnion, every key element of the culture feeds into each other to create a “virtuous cycle of effective teamwork.” Supporting each other at work and getting to know one another on a personal level aren’t separate — they enable each other to function better.

 

What are the key characteristics or values of a good team culture, and what are some ways you and your team bring those characteristics or values to life?

Our key characteristics are: trust and transparency; frequent, open and honest communication; alignment on priorities and approach; ownership, accountability and respect; and a sense of humor and having fun at work.

These elements are intertwined and feed a virtuous cycle of effective teamwork. Trust enables open and honest communication and collaboration — we are comfortable admitting when we don’t know the answer or have overlooked something, and respectfully share our differing perspectives and ask questions. Being authentic and vulnerable allows us to incorporate all relevant information to find the best answer to a problem and fosters innovation by mitigating fear of failure. Frequent communication is key to driving alignment and accountability — it enables a common understanding of the team’s work and each member’s role, plus opens an opportunity to enhance success with feedback. For us, this includes regular 1:1s, core team meetings and matrix partner business reviews. 

 

How do you ensure members of your team continue to feel challenged, engaged and excited by the work they’re doing?

I empower my team members to own their projects and have autonomy over the approach and process, while I act as a sounding board, provide guidance and alignment or help problem-solve as necessary. Making an impact and feeling that your contributions meaningfully drive the business are key to job satisfaction, and accountability and leadership are critical enablers of that. It is incredibly rewarding to point to a successful initiative — be it a marketing campaign, research report publication, or launch of a new solution — and be able to say, “I did that.” 

In addition, the frequent and open communication I mentioned earlier is key to ensuring team members are engaged and excited by their work. In weekly 1:1s, we discuss how things are going — both project-specific and more generally — and where I can offer support. We also have career development conversations during our semi-annual reviews. Those conversations include the types of projects they would like to work on in the future, areas of expertise they would like to build and desired career path. From there, I can help tailor tasks or projects accordingly, whether to fulfill specific interests or identify development opportunities. 

It is incredibly rewarding to point to a successful initiative and be able to say, ‘I did that.’”

 

Do you have any unique team celebrations, traditions or rituals to celebrate successes?

More so than big celebrations, I think taking time to recognize the small, incremental wins is very important. Ultimately, success is a product of many small accomplishments over the course of days, weeks and months. I provide my team feedback and appreciation in real-time, which I feel creates camaraderie and makes team members feel supported and valued. 

In addition, we have a monthly team meeting in which we take time to go “around the horn” so each person can share what’s on their mind. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate successes, express appreciation for the contributions of other team members or get visibility and advice for an issue you’re facing. Finally, quarterly off-sites or group get-togethers are a wonderful way to energize the team. We recently played an online competition of Family Feud together to close out the year that had everyone laughing!

 

 

Mary Beth Wynn

VP of People and Culture

 

Level Ex is full of gamers, and it shows. Activities like their occasional GameJams get their employees’ creative juices flowing in fun, unexpected ways. They also nurture their souls by giving back to the community.

 

What are the key characteristics or values of a good team culture, and what are some ways you and your team bring those characteristics or values to life?

Level Ex takes great pride in our diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts. Our DEIB company program, “Raising the Score” — we’re a games company, remember — harnesses the power of a broad group of team members who enthusiastically look for ways to make our culture rich, diverse and comfortable for everyone. 

We identified stronger communication as a goal for 2022, and were able to significantly improve our employee survey scores in this area over the course of the year, despite the challenges that come with a hybrid environment. Additionally, we have a real focus on giving back — all Level Exers get two extra days off per year to devote to community service. Finally, we try to keep our mission serious, but our way of working together fun. From the AI-generated photos our CEO loves to pepper into meetings, to our variety of personal interest Slack channels to Cameo celebrity shout outs in our all-team meetings, we try to entertain each other, make each other laugh and enjoy the time we spend together.

 

How do you ensure members of your team continue to feel challenged, engaged and excited by the work they’re doing?

To thrive at Level Ex, you need to enjoy creating amazing, educational gaming experiences and have a real passion for learning new things — from new technology to advances in medicine. The routine workload for our games studio includes our core mobile games, as well as the variety of experiences we collaborate with top pharmaceutical and medical device companies to build. 

To spark creativity and teamwork, we also host an occasional GameJam — essentially a hackathon — where teams are given just a few days to create a new game from scratch. Our most recent GameJam focused on helping physicians diagnose Neuroendocrine tumors in honor of a Level Ex colleague lost too young to an NET. It embodied our vision of advancing the practice of medicine through play, brought team members closer together, and resulted in some amazing creative work. Investing in that kind of change of pace and creative catalyst is essential to keeping our work evolving and our people engaged!

We’ve got every kind of console in the office hooked up to the big screen in our lounge, and have a tendency to get a Jackbox party game up on that screen for folks both in office and remote to play together.”

 

Do you have any unique team celebrations, traditions or rituals to celebrate successes? 

We’re a gaming company, so our celebrations tend to revolve around this theme!

We’ve got every kind of console in the office hooked up to the big screen in our lounge, and have a tendency to get a Jackbox party game up on that screen for folks both in office and remote to play together. We’ve also usually got a puzzle going on a table in the lounge and board games and card games at the ready. 

 

 

Members of Snapsheet hanging out on a rooftop.
Source: Snapsheet

 

Eugene Lorman

Software Engineering Manager

 

Lorman cites care as one of the key characteristics of Snapsheet, an insurance company dedicated to advancing auto claims processing through technology. When team members care about each other as individuals, they’re invested in their success.

 

What are the key characteristics or values of a good team culture, and what are some ways you and your team bring those characteristics or values to life?

To me, the key to a good team culture is care and responsibility. 

Building relationships on the team where all individual members care about each other enables us to bring our full selves to every interaction. Caring about each other also adds a level of responsibility to make sure everyone is able to contribute and to help each other get our work done. 

Our team has a number of people that are learning our core technologies for the first time, and I can see the care expressed by more experienced members in the time and effort they take to answer questions and explain the intricacies of the technologies and languages. They feel directly responsible for helping their peers — not just to help them get the current task done, but also to enable them to learn and grow. Showing this level of care enables the less experienced folks to freely ask for help without fear of judgment and allows the more experienced individuals to build confidence in their knowledge.

 

How do you ensure members of your team continue to feel challenged, engaged and excited by the work they’re doing?

I believe that having ownership of a project and getting recognition for doing good work goes a long way to make sure team members are excited and engaged. We do not reserve leading large projects to only our more experienced team members — having those with less experience lead the effort allows them the opportunity to grow, while others on the team benefit through providing guidance and support. 

Every team member creates a list of goals they want to accomplish every quarter. And the challenge for them — and for me as the team lead — is to find a way to meet those goals through the work that we have planned. While not always possible, it does challenge us to set achievable goals as well as to distribute work in a way that everyone can always learn and grow in their career. Those with less experience get to work on challenging technical issues, while those growing into leadership roles get to work on mentoring and guiding skills that are sometimes even harder to develop on the job.

Having those with less experience lead a project allows them the opportunity to grow, while others on the team benefit through providing guidance and support.”

 

Do you have any unique team celebrations, traditions or rituals to celebrate successes?

We don’t have anything formal set up, but there are a few things in our daily routines for celebrating successes, even small ones. To help each other with feedback, we have daily on-demand peer review meetings that get triggered via Slack automation asking if you have anything to review. In those meetings, we demo our work and discuss the details of implementation. It is very rewarding for all to be able to demo their work to peers and get both positive feedback as well as critiques, and everyone comes into the meeting with the mindset of learning and growing. Improvement requests are seen as a positive and will usually be followed up with a thank you. 

Snapsheet as a company also uses Motivosity, which I see as a more formal way to call out someone’s achievements — but I find the little appreciations during collaboration sessions carry a more personal meaning for most people.

 

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