Culturedation: Family? Sports Team? Etc… How best to describe your Company Culture?

There has been a long-standing conversation and debate on best analogies to use when describing your company culture.

The 2 commonly used analogies when describing company culture are “Family” and “Sports Team”, further explored below:

The “Family” analogy for Company Culture

Some organisations have used (and still using) the “Family” analogy to describe their company cultures. They mention they are like a “Family”, with the main intention to describe how their employees are supported, nurtured and cared for with strong relationship bonds with each other.

However, a common argument against the “Family” analogy is that it does not adequately consider the performance-related expectation of the employees, as family relationships are generally rooted in unconditional support and love.

Hence the “Family” analogy may not communicate properly the required expectation to perform aligned to set workplace standards from the company (e.g. KPIs).

The “Sports Team” analogy for Company Culture

To address the performance-related expectation communication gap from the “Family” analogy, some organisations have resorted to using the “Sports Team” analogy to describe their company cultures instead.

Main idea behind the “Sports Team” analogy is to describe how their working environment is based on meritocracy with set performance standards for employees, with everyone playing their respective roles to contribute to the overall objective, like how a sports team operates with their athlete players for the team’s sports matches.

However, a common argument against the “Sports Team” analogy is that the dynamics of a team competing in sports can be quite different than a team working together in a workplace environment as well.

E.g. In sports, the objective is very much focused on winning against the opposing teams. Your success will always then be evaluated on how well you are performing against your rival teams. No doubt, benchmarking against your competitors is important to identify areas for your improvement, but is your company culture really just about winning against your competitors?

Or is it more about focusing on your own progress and improvement as a company in creating added value for your stakeholders, especially your customers? Are you competitor-centric or customer-centric here? Hence, the “Sports Team" analogy can potentially be misleading as well.

Which analogy to use for your Company Culture then?

Using the right analogy is important, but more important than the analogy used is actually how it is perceived by your target audience when describing your company culture to them.

Every company culture is distinct and unique in their own respective ways. Hence, for optimum effectiveness, you can consider applying the 3 E's principles below when choosing your analogies and communicating them:

  • Explain
  • Example
  • Evident

For the purposes of this breakdown, let's use the "Family" analogy for illustration.

1. Explain

With your chosen analogy, are you able to clearly explain what it really means with a clear, properly defined and non-fluffy way?

E.g. If you were to describe your company culture as like a “Family”, what does it really mean in your company’s context?

Best to link this to your company’s core values as well. Also bear in mind that the term “Family” can mean different things to different people, hence the extra need to be precise too.

2. Example

Connected with the "Explain" principle above, are there any supporting examples you can highlight for your chosen analogy?

E.g. If you were to describe your company culture as like a “Family”, what are the specific instances and scenarios it has been displayed and practiced within your company culture?

3. Evident

This principle goes hand in hand with the "Explain" and "Example" principles above. In fact, without this, your chosen analogy will not carry much weight and credibility with your target audience.

How evident is your chosen analogy description from your company culture experience?

E.g. If you were to describe your company culture as like a “Family”, mentioning that your employees care for each other (Explain principle) which is displayed by supporting each other with ad-hoc tasks when needed (Example principle), how truly evident is this from your company culture practices?

Concluding remarks

Whether you choose to describe your company culture as like a “Family”, “Sports Team” or any other analogy (you can be creative!), just remember that more importantly, it is the message received from your target audience that matters most to be effective.

By applying the 3 E's principles above, you can better choose the right analogy that fits and describes your distinct and unique company culture best.


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