Creating a great company culture doesn’t mean creating a “family”
Deb Li, Head of New York Operations, EDITED

Creating a company culture that inspires and motivates your employees to do the best work of their careers is one of the hardest challenges your business may ever face. And unfortunately it’s one that only gets more complicated as the business grows.

In the early days, the company’s culture creates itself. There are fewer people and enormous challenges in front of them. Everyone is friends and everyone is equal. But as the company grows, so too does the importance of establishing a culture that’s equipped to grow up alongside your company and help it contribute meaningfully to everyone’s happiness.

To do that, a lot of companies defer to the idea of family, and it’s pretty obvious why. By and large the concept of “family” is a good thing. It’s associated strong, positive values. In most societies, families are the hallmarks of stability and well being. But they’re also known to be… more than a little dysfunctional.

So forget a family. What we’ve discovered at EDITED is that what you really want to model your company culture after is a pro sports team. Here’s why...

Families don’t always communicate well. Sports teams do.

Here’s the “family” problem in a nutshell: being a member of a family means an obligation to keeping the family happy. Under that banner, confrontational opinions are often toned down, or suppressed altogether. The end result being a lot of muzzled opinions and thoughts left unsaid. Each fermenting over time, until one day they explode.

A good business practice? Not quite.

Now compare that to a pro sports team. The objective is to help keep the team competitive. The desire and drive to win underpins every aspect of performance in a business, and communication is fundamental within that.

Feedback and observations should be daily essentials like food and water. Not just to keep disagreements from festering into resentment, but to foster an environment of dynamic improvement and constant enhancement. One hallmark of high-achieving individuals is a persistent desire to improve, both as an individual and as part of a team.

High achievers thrive in environments that encourage people to say what they mean, and to say it often. If you cultivate a culture where every conversation is easy, rest assured ideas are going unspoken, and bad decisions are being left unchallenged. It’s no coincidence that at EDITED some of our best ideas have come from our most difficult conversations.

Sure, that approach might not work for a family looking to maintain its status quo, but in a performance-driven environment it can make the difference between a losing and a winning record. Afterall, not saying anything would be to the detriment of the team’s ability to win. Which brings up another good point...

Families exist to love and nurture. Sports teams exist to win.

Families and sports teams exist for very different reasons, families to love, teams to win. And they rely on a very different set of mechanics to achieve their goals.

Families are mainly support networks wherein people occupy specific roles based on things like circumstance, tradition or culture. In most cases roles are assigned and carried out to the best of the occupant’s ability. Often it’s a role guided by an emotional connection and there’s a lot of ambiguity in it.

In sports teams, of course the opposite is true. Each position is defined by its purpose and requires a highly-trained specialist to occupy it. And the person chosen to occupy it isn’t chosen due to custom or birth, but pure merit.

The eco-system of professional sports runs on merit, results and achievement, each a metric that lends itself to quantitative measurement. It’s true that certain players are better suited to certain teams’ style of play, but generally speaking, knowing who is good for your team is a question of knowing how to measure their skills correctly.

Within the team structure it’s clear who is supposed to do what. The boundaries exist to give each team member the space they need become an expert in their role. They’re mentored by more experienced players on how to improve their skills individually and in unison with the rest of the team to function as one entity working towards a collective goal.

If any member of the team starts to lag behind their teammates, those issues can be spotted early and traced back to their origins. Players’ workout and practice regimens can be fine tuned, or replaced altogether. In instances where a player has talent but can’t quite find their groove within a team, they can even be replaced. Which of course isn’t true of families because…

Families stick by you no matter what.

That’s great for families, but not for teams. The reason is simple, if you don’t have to constantly demonstrate your value, you probably won’t. And without that effort, complacency sets in.

In pro sports, like in business, the sense that “I am always welcome here no matter what,” couldn’t be more anathema to the drive required to stay innovative and relevant.

Self-satisfaction is the death of desire, and it can do more damage to a company than a fire that burns the building down. A company can have ambitious, world-changing goals, but without a team of motivated employees dedicated to achieving those goals, everything becomes hot air. Shared values underpin our culture, and sustain motivation. Our values are what we all agree to value in each other, the behaviours and skills that we value in every team member.

Real company values are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted or let go. They’re based on performance and merit. They’re indifferent to age, rank, reputation or popularity. They give everyone an equal chance to succeed and a reason to want to.

Tightly condensed into one bad sports idiom: it’s a hole in one.

About EDITED

EDITED, the world’s biggest source of real-time data for brands and retailers, is the industry standard for pricing, assortment, demand and competitive metrics. EDITED helps brands like Topshop, Net-A-Porter and Ralph Lauren deliver the right products at the right price, at the right time. For more information, visit www.edited.com.