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Offering employees a thriving culture makes them more likely to engage and less likely to churn. Pew Research Center findings from 2021 showed that two of the top three reasons employees resigned had culture-related links: no promotion or advancement opportunities (63%) and feeling disrespected (57%). However, leaders shouldn’t just see culture as one large entity. Every culture is made up of countless subcultures, and those subcultures are the hidden engines driving performance.
Subcultures operate as distinct groups of people within the larger organizational culture. These people share common values, goals, experiences and practices. The subcultures can form anytime and anywhere as employees discover they have shared interests or personality traits with their co-workers.
Whatever their origins, subcultures serve to shape the way team members interact with each other and the company. Maybe the sales team meets for drinks after work on Thursdays, or the IT department has its unique sense of humor. As subcultures evolve, they develop cultures, languages, colors and vibrancies that add to the organization’s broader cultural base.
Related: Company Culture Is Everything
By promoting the development of subcultures, companies are poised to gain some significant benefits. For instance, subcultures offer the chance for leaders and their workers to tap into new sources of creativity and foster stronger connections. Subcultures can therefore be leveraged by managers, directors and executives to unlock their organization’s true potential.
Unfortunately, subcultures can suffer in businesses that adopt fully remote or mostly hybrid working arrangements. According to recent Gallup research, about half of full-time employees in the U.S. are capable of doing their jobs virtually at least sometimes. That means about 60 million people probably aren’t working in traditional office spaces. For these team members, identifying and growing subcultures can be tough. Remember: They’re not interacting with co-workers as routinely as they would in a physical setting where they would meet daily. Accordingly, employers with remote staff need to take steps to build subcultures into their cultures.
If you’re interested in fostering a more robust culture through subcultures, you can achieve your goal through careful planning and thoughtful execution. Though the process might seem overwhelming at first, it can be done. And it should be done. Subcultures are essential parts of how people at work define themselves and build a sense of greater purpose and belonging. Below are a few recommendations to help you enrich your culture with subcultures:
1. Embrace and encourage diversity and inclusion
Subcultures can’t take root if your organization doesn’t feel like a safe place for people to bring their whole selves to work. A 2020 Glassdoor survey showed that 76% of job hunters actively look at companies’ diversity and inclusion positioning when determining whether or not to accept positions. Consequently, it’s evident that giving employees a wide berth to show their individual perspectives and backgrounds makes sense.
One way to cultivate a sense of acceptance is to have specific diversity and inclusion goals across your company. For example, Accenture set a diversity-based goal of becoming more gender-balanced by 2025. To make this come to fruition, the consulting company is revising its talent pipeline and hiring practices. Additionally, Accenture’s leaders are taking care to ensure that everyone feels comfortable voicing their opinions and being authentic at work.
2. Stay connected with technology
Is your team mostly working in remote capacities? Do you have physical offices that are scattered around the country or globe? Technology is a great way to set the stage for building relationships between individuals and teams. Vehicles such as Zoom meetings and Slack channels give employees chances to connect regardless of geographic boundaries.
At our company, we rely on technology to share information, collaborate on projects and discuss topics. This includes discussing subjects outside those strictly related to the work we do. In fact, our leadership encourages team members to engage in virtual “water cooler” conversations so they can find shared interests and potentially grow subcultures.
3. Nurture an environment of sharing and learning
Employees who feel stifled might still create subcultures, but the subcultures will be “underground” and potentially toxic. Everyone in a company — from the top executive to the individual contributor — should feel at ease sharing ideas or raising concerns. Every time a worker hesitates to toss a creative idea into the mix, the overall organization’s culture and innovation could be hampered.
Providing educational and professional development opportunities can encourage this kind of open communication. They can also encourage talented job seekers to join your ranks because around four out of five employees say that upskilling and training are critical considerations when accepting new jobs, according to an American Staffing Association poll. As people become more knowledgeable in a variety of subject matters, they’ll be more inclined to make positive contributions. After all, they’ll feel confident in their abilities and roles. Those contributions will then filter throughout your company’s communities, and if all goes well, promote further engagement, such as brainstorming.
4. Ensure all subcultures focus on furthering organizational objectives
Your organization has objectives. Ideally, all your subcultures should help those objectives come to fruition. However, you might need to establish some clear goals and expectations for all your teams to make certain that subcultures contribute to the success of your organization.
Take Patagonia’s culture and subcultures, for example. The company has been on a green mission since its inception. Today, Patagonia pays employees from across its subcultures to spend up to 18 hours annually volunteering for environmentally focused charities. However, they’re asked to volunteer at one of Patagonia’s supported nonprofits to remain in alignment with the company’s greater vision. The subculture groups have choices, but all funnels support Patagonia’s North Star beliefs.
Your culture can become much more than the sum of its parts thanks to subcultures. Your role is to make it effortless and natural for positive subcultures to take root, branch out and ground your company’s people.