I remember working for a hotel management company and applying for the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list every year.  I suspect I did what most applicants did: I looked at Google’s exhaustive list of perks and benefits and tried to figure out how we could say that we offered the equivalent of free gourmet food and concierge services.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s assertion that pursuing employee happiness can replace high pay and great benefits as a means to engender employee loyalty and create a unique company culture is intriguing.  His definition of employee happiness is interesting too; he says it consists in the satisfaction of four basic human needs: 

  1. Perceived Progress:  The perception that you’re further along today than yesterday.
  2. Perceived Control:  The perception that you have a direct effect on the outcomes in your life.
  3. Relatedness:  Living life in the context of meaningful relationships.
  4. Connection to a Larger Vision:  The ability to contribute to something bigger than yourself.

If we buy this definition, and I certainly deem it worthy of serious consideration, the question becomes, how do we bring this definition of happiness about? For me, as usual, it comes back to team culture.  Some–perhaps all–of these human needs are tough to consider on the macro-organizational level for those of us who don’t occupy senior leadership positions.  But within work teams, we begin to consider what is within our span of control.

  1. As a team leader, I can create perceived progress by making sure the team has a strong structure for communication, both in terms of goals, and in terms of feedback from customers and management.  Weekly or even daily meetings to review our progress toward goals or the completion of projects will go a long way.
  2. Perceived control comes from instilling a culture of accountability on the team.  We sink or swim together, and we meet constantly to determine which one we’re doing and how to fix it when we’re sinking.
  3. Relatedness is first about making sure that we have the right team make-up; team members should be interdependent and have a complementary mix of skills sets and informal roles.  Then we have to cultivate respect, trust, an effective method of conflict resolution, and an agreement that communication is of paramount importance and something we should always strive to get better at.  Easier said than done, but teams that focus explicitly on activities to develop these characteristics of strong teams often manage to create a great team culture.
  4. Finally, the connection to a larger vision is about that most elementary and primary activity of a new team: the creation of a mission and vision statement, and the exploration of how each team member contributes to them. 

I go back to a lively Linkedin discussion we had within several group discussion boards a few weeks ago, when I asked the question, “Can a team create its own culture, distinct from the organization?”  The people who responded unanimously agreed that it is possible–some even said it is inevitable.  You may not be able to create a magical Zappos-like culture throughout your organization, but you can certainly work toward creating one on your team. 

What ideas and best practices can you share for creating that culture?


  1. Thanks, Kelli! Just hit the subscribe button up towards the top right corner of the page.