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Culture Matters: The Research Agrees


CULTURE is important, right? It’s mentioned a lot when identifying the great companies to work for. It tells us about our identity at work. It’s what we attribute successes to. And it defines what we want our company to achieve, for example, a culture of performance. Yet, the term culture is so abstract that we really need to drill down to avoid it becoming a nominalisation. What culture is really about is how it actually feels to work at a company which is the biggest factor in performance. This is at ground-level and not in the marketing campaigns that are designed to attract people to step through the door.

Do people really care about the so-called culture of their company? According to Buckingham and Goodall in their revolutionary book Nine Lies about Work, there is more variation within a company than between companies when compared on key factors of performance, suggesting that it is not the culture of the company that determines how employees behave. It is the culture of teams that matters most and that is significantly more important than company-wide experiences. When people choose not to work somewhere, it is because of their team and not the company as a whole. As Buckingham and Goodall conclude,

While people might care which company they join, they don’t care which company they work for. The truth is that, once there, people care which team they’re on.

Teams are about what we focus on, what we do, how we do it and who we do it with. Culture is too abstract. Teams are about identifying our unique strengths and then working together on a shared purpose. Culture is too often about conforming to a set of values and behaviours.


Research carried out over the last several years by ADP that builds on the work of the Gallup Organization, the Corporate Executive Board and others, identifies eight key aspects that validly predict team performance. The first four are what are described as ‘The Best of We’, in other words, the shared experience of work:

  • I am really enthusiastic about the mission of my company.
  • In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values.
  • My teammates have my back.
  • I have great confidence in my company’s future.


The second group refer to the ‘Best of Me’ which are about individual experiences:

  • At work I clearly understand what is expected of me.
  • I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work.
  • I know I will be recognized for excellent work.
  • In my work, I am always challenged to grow.


These factors offer a clear way to measure employee experience and to inform team leaders about what to focus on. Unlike company culture messages, team culture is something team leaders control. Excellent leaders are able to meet these needs and create the time to fulfil their role, knowing that these eight aspects are critical to achieve engagement and performance.

Instead of focusing on the culture of a company, focus on what the company does to build great teams.

Buckingham & Goodall