If you’ve cracked the cover of a business magazine in the last decade, you’ll have heard of the concept of a company or organisational culture. It’s one of those broad umbrella terms that can seem like it means everything and nothing at the same time – kind of like postmodernism – but that’s because the culture of your company is a naturally occurring, omnipresent aspect of running a business.

Your company culture is made up of everything from the values you hold as an organisation, to the way your staff work day-to-day. It’s the life-force of the business, or the sun and rain that keeps it growing if you’d prefer I stuck to my metaphor. And, just like a garden, if the balance is off you’ll start to see things wilting.

So how do you go about making sure your team and business thrive in a healthy culture? Here are four key things to pay attention to if you want to yield some impressive veg.

1. Choose wisely

Have you ever heard somebody say you can change everything about a house except where it is? If you replace the word ‘house’ with ‘employee’ and ‘where’ with ‘who’ then you’ll find it still holds more or less true. When you’re choosing who to incorporate into your business it’s obviously good if the person you’re taking on has some idea of what they’ll be doing, but more important than someone with years of experience and expertise is someone with the right attitude and values. You can always develop your skills and learn new ones, but you can’t really learn a new personality. In the long run, you’ll likely get a more dedicated and hardworking team member if you go with someone who is willing to learn and think creatively about the role rather than someone who already knows everything (or thinks they do). Finding people who are in-tune with your ethos is actually a much safer bet for success than finding people with the most impressive CVs.

2. Trust everyone first

It undoubtedly takes time to build up trust with people, but there’s something to be said for taking a ‘reliable until proven otherwise’ approach when it comes to trusting your team. After all, if your hiring process is effective then they should all be trustworthy, and even if the odd one turns out not to be what you thought you’ll still see an overwhelmingly positive return on your trust investment.

So what does trusting your team look like? I’m not talking about giving out your laptop password and a key to your desk drawer the second they walk through the door. I’m talking about trusting them to do their job without being micromanaged, to try out ideas, and to get things done. Although some people work best with deadlines and targets, often you’ll find that being a bit more chilled out about what gets done, and when, will result in your employees over-delivering out of a desire not to let you down. In fact, quite a few companies now have an unlimited holiday policy, which is another way of trusting your employees to do the best work they can and manage their own time. Treating adults like adults and understanding that life doesn’t always follow a neat 9-5 schedule is a fast-track way to a happy, stress-free culture.

3. Keeping the channels open

We all know how important communication is in all aspects of life, and it’s no different with a business. The thing to bear in mind as the owner though is that just leaving your door open for your team to come to you, although a good thing to do, isn’t enough. It’s also down to you to regularly approach your staff and ask them if there’s anything they want to discuss: it’s distinctly possible that they’ve seen how busy you are and don’t want to bother you. So let them know that their queries and issues are absolutely important enough to come to you with, and reinforce that by checking in frequently.

4. Team bonding (but no trust falls)

To make sure your team are singing from the same song sheet and that there’s a culture of collaboration in your business, your team has to bond. But not once a year at some awkward corporate team building retreat where they’ll be made to play uncomfortable games or break a board with their foot – your team should be encouraged to bond every week, every day, in normal not-embarrassing ways. Team rituals are a really vital part of that, whether it’s a weekly Tea Time like IDEO, or Friday breakfast rolls a la Team Appointedd. It’s about giving everyone an excuse to connect over something not-work related, which will ultimately make it a more natural process when they do work together.

Published on 23 May 2016