Ability to Steer Company Culture With a Single Word by Relentlessly Repeating It
Jason Sperling, Former Former Senior Digital Strategist
Some weeks ago I updated my LinkedIn profile with a skill, the aforementioned title of this post. While the syntax was a bit tongue in cheek, the underlying sentiment is a reference to building culture through tradition, which is often a challenge for companies; we here at Viget work hard at overcoming that challenge.
Viget has two amazing traditions that have helped shape and sustain our culture over the years. My hope is that sharing these examples will inspire others.
#1 - TTT
The TTT, or Third Third Thursday, is a quarterly event that includes some business and some fun. Historically, the entire company got together for each of these events. Now with three offices spread across the country, the entire company gets together twice a year and the other two times the event includes the staff from each local office.
The business part of the TTT features Brian (CEO) and Andy (President) opening the company financials -- yes, revenue, bar graphs, and pie charts, plus long-term business strategy including future organization charts and an interactive team-building activity -- and concludes with a forum where staff questions are discussed.
The fun part of the TTT ranges from Snowshoeing, Camping, and Super Tramping to Epic Egg Drop, Screen Printing, Building Bikes, and Laser Tag. The day ends with a celebration that tends to drift deep into the night ...
The Big 12
Three months ago, Viget celebrated 12 years with a massive three-day TTT in Richmond, Virginia. The first day was spent in breakout sessions by discipline. The second day was filled with the business meeting, followed by a banquet dinner where significant others joined to witness a talent show unlike any other (see nose flute yo-yoing in video below - yes, OUT OF CONTROL).
The next day, we swapped our 3-piece boardroom suits for helmets and personal flotation devices to go white water rafting down the Potomac River. Check out the video:
The TTT infuses rhythm into life at Viget. It brings us together and keeps us connected to the bigger vision and inner workings of our company. What makes it profound is the commitment Viget has made and kept over the last decade +. Meanwhile, larger corporations tend to cut social/cultural activities when the economy tanks. While editing this post, I talked with Ben Eckerson (Project Manager), who was lamenting how his previous employer cut the Halloween party. Each year, he’d looked forward to seeing all the creative costumes and, then, one year without warning, it was just gone. Without a sound. Gone, like it never existed before ...
#2 - Lab Report / Free Lunch Friday
Every week for twelve years the Lab Report has been written and shared. At time of writing, we’re on Volume XIII, Issue 33. The Lab Report shares general announcements, staff blog posts, progress updates on new and existing projects and sales efforts, and concludes with quotes or pictures from the week.
The Lab Report is generated by nearly a dozen folks, each contributing content related to projects and the team. The Lab Report is emailed to the entire staff but highlights from it become the emphasis of a weekly company-wide meeting on Fridays. This meeting, called Free Lunch Friday, consists of all of us getting together in our conference rooms and on video chat to eat together and share events of the week. After sharing updates, one Viget presents what we call LabShare. LabShare gives staff the chance to practice public speaking while educating peers on a topic of the presenter’s choice. Two of the more popular and quirky LabShares have included Music Theory in 10 Minutes and Ruby & Mid-90s Hip Hop, both by David Eisinger (Senior Developer).
Free Lunch Friday provides an enjoyable way for us to get to know each other and bond over a communal experience. At the last company I worked at, sharing progress updates with the staff was definitely a goal. Meeting invites went out. Schedules were arranged. But, time and again, the meeting was delayed or canceled altogether. It’s not surprising -- it takes a huge coordinated effort to make this happen. How can it become part of the cultural fabric?
While a lot of companies I’ve worked at promise activities like TTT and the Lab Report / Free Lunch Friday, Viget has operationalized these into long-standing traditions. Beyond making Viget a great place to work, they strengthen our interpersonal bonds and make our collaboration with each other and clients both potent and effective. The foundation of our culture makes a safe environment for experimentation and innovation -- something fundamental to how we continue to bring new perspectives and value to our work.
There are other things we do to build and sustain the Viget culture, such as: nurturing the personal growth and goals of Vigets; involving the team in hiring and sales decisions; and being freaky-religious about employee reviews, project retrospectives, and knowledge documentation and sharing (we have a knowledge base approaching the scale of the Library of Congress). These activities foster a high level of participation and accountability that translates into, well ... awesomeness.
Does your company have any notable traditions? Are they named with cool, catchy acronyms? I’d love to hear what fills your days, weeks, months, and years with ritual and helps make the culture of your company flourish.