What Corporate America Taught Me About Culture

Written by:

Shantera Chatman

I joined the ranks of corporate America directly from Texas A&M in January 1999. Bright-eyed and ready to go, I had this idea about what it would be like to work in an office with my colleagues and how we would collaborate to solve problems. Pride filled me as I drove to my office each day and visited with clients.

Over time, I realized I was wrong.

I had romanticized what it would be like to have a “real job” and work with people who I thought would be my friends. In actuality, I was not friends with most of the people I worked with. In fact, I did not like most of the people I worked with. My office was full of politics and backstabbing. The company displayed aspirational core values on the wall but fell from grace slowly day by day.

Working in corporate America taught me one thing about culture: It cannot merely be written on the walls. Culture must be exhibited, experienced. Most companies have mission and vision statements that are used to explain their company’s culture, but a strong and positive company culture goes beyond words.

So, how do you create a strong company culture in a Work from Home (WFH) environment? While hard, it is not impossible. Start here:

Establish Trust

Trust is pivotal to creating a strong culture, especially in a WFH environment. Trust means your team feels safe to tell the truth, without any fear of retribution. One of the biggest and most damaging incidents of my career happened within the first 5 years. My tires were slashed while I was working late in a gated, secured building. I was told the next day that the men I worked with were bothered by my new vehicle, and I made them feel bad for not being able to purchase a nice car for their wives. Basically, I needed to be put in my place. No one helped me. Can you guess what that incident said about the company’s culture to me... and moreover, the role it played in me never trusting anyone I worked with again?

Foster and Encourage Collaboration

Connect beyond Zoom. This is a new world and while Zoom is the ruler, it is exhausting and can cause burnout. To combat it, reach out via different modes of communication. Rotate between group texts or scheduling individual calls with your team. Use events like virtual scavenger hunts to lighten the mood and help teams relax. The key is movement and varying the way you communicate to keep your teams and organizations stimulated.

Think of it this way; a strong culture means everyone is comfortable being themselves and can work at their natural best. Are you comfortable sharing your true self with your team? If your answer is no, your team is likely not comfortable either. Successful leaders build a trusting work environment. The words on the wall do not create culture, the actions of each individual do.

How would you describe your company’s culture? What work can you do to make it better? What I learned in corporate America is that everyone has a role to play in building culture, one that is action-based and evokes a feeling. You choose what feelings you will evoke. Choose wisely.

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