Thoughts on Culture & Community

This morning I attended a meetup at Atlanta Tech Village about business/organizational culture, organized by John Saddington. We discussed the definition of culture, how to create culture, and the role of leadership in maintaining it. Having the opportunity to work with a lot of different startups at Atlanta Tech Village and Atlanta Ventures has exposed me to many different  styles and approaches to culture. I am fascinated by the topic and the many different ways that a healthy (or unhealthy) culture can affect the success of a company. David Cummings, serial entrepreneur and founder of Atlanta Tech Village, has been known to be a huge proponent of the importance of culture within startups. “Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur,” he says. Because entrepreneurs are responsible for guiding the development of their product and their people, culture is absolutely crucial. Management structure is an important piece of that. The entrepreneur’s decision to use a traditional management structure, or to remove structure and attempt to create a holocratic or ROWE workplace is foundational to the type of company they want to build. Nonetheless, management structure plays second fiddle to mission and core values. Management structure must look different for each company, and must be built to cultivate a culture within their organization that supports a defined mission and set of core values. Mission and values are the most important driver of company culture.

As I left the meetup and walked upstairs to my desk at the Village, I started to wonder about the relationship between community and culture. Can culture help build community? Does community inform and influence culture? (I would answer yes to both.) Atlanta Tech Village is built around the belief that community is a crucial element in success for entrepreneurs as they build their organizations. I think a lot of companies want to be here because there is a culture at the Village that aligns with the one they want to build. In that way, larger communities can help influence and shape the internal culture of a smaller community. But that doesn’t take the burden off of the entrepreneur entirely. He or she must still work very hard to create a healthy culture on a smaller scale that is sustainable as the organization grows into a larger community.

The dictionary definition of corporate culture is “the philosophy, values, behavior, dress codes, etc., that together constitute the unique style and policies of a company.” Community is defined as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” Perhaps, at the most basic level, the the goal of the entrepreneur is to make their defined culture (made up of mission and values) the “particular characteristic” that his/her community (company) has in common.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, and I know some other folks that might as well.