Syllabus

The Holloway Syllabus on Company Culture

230+ resources you need to learn the ins and outs of company culture.
Haley S. Anderson
▪︎ 36 minutes read time

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This post is part of The Holloway Syllabus series. We’ll publish new Holloway Syllabi every other week, and you can read and search the contents of all of them in one place in The Holloway Modern Work Library. To create this Holloway Syllabus, we put in more than 40 hours of research and worked with Tom Eisenmann from Harvard Business School, Nadia Eghbal from Protocol Labs, and Dasha Maggio from Felicis Ventures to pull together and vet great resources. We believe this is the most comprehensive and authoritative list (over 230 resources!) to help you master the ins and outs of company culture.

Introduction2 links

"Culture is the tacit social order of an organization: It shapes attitudes and behaviors in wide-ranging and durable ways. Cultural norms define what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group. When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive." Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jesse Price, and J. Yo-Jud Cheng, The Culture Factor*

The concept of “company culture” often seems to be something between a buzzword, an enigma, and a feeling, so what is it really? Company culture is an expression of shared values, a reflection of leadership, the way colleagues relate to and treat one another, a sense of safety and belonging, a question of how a company reacts to the challenges it faces, and more. As demonstrated by the resources in Why does company culture matter? and the case studies in The Risks of Getting Culture Wrong, company culture can be a source of profitability and a reason excellent employees stay, or it can lead to wrongdoing, disaffection, and even criminal investigation.

This syllabus draws together resources that will help you learn about the many dimensions of company culture, as well as tips and tools that can help you build, change, and scale your own. While all of its sections could easily expand into their own deep dives, we have selected key resources that will give you the overview you need to grapple with the main concepts and controversies in each. If you work at a company, are thinking of starting a company, or even just interact with others, this syllabus is for you.

Company Culture 10113 links

Overview

What is company culture?

Why does company culture matter?

Elements of Company Culture15 minutes, 86 links

Values

What are company values?

How are values put into action?

Organizational structure

Why does structure matter?

What kind of structure should you have?

Good leadership

Leaders' impact on culture

Positive leadership qualities

Developing leaders

Communication

Collaboration

Transparency

Communication roadblocks

Effective feedback loops

There’s a lot of good advice out there on how to give feedback effectively. We consider this a net positive. That said, readers may find it more daunting to read each and every one of these resources, and we suggest that you take a look through, focusing now on any that apply to particular situations in which you find yourself and returning to this list as you face new challenges or seek to grow.

Communicating about company culture

Trust and empathy

Inclusion

For more in-depth discussions on diversity and inclusion, check out the Holloway Guide to Raising Venture Capital ("Bias and Discrimination in Fundraising") and the Holloway Guide to Technical Recruiting and Hiring ("Part II: Diversity and Inclusion in Tech" and "Appendix B: Diversity and Inclusion Reading List").

Why inclusion matters

  • Tech Leavers Study — Kapor Center for Social Impact — Finds that “unfair treatment is the single largest driver of turnover affecting all groups, and most acutely affects underrepresented professionals.” Recommends that “diversity and inclusion initiatives can improve culture and reduce turnover—if they are done right.”
  • Delivering through diversity — Vivian Hunt, Lareina Yee, Sara Prince, and Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle (McKinsey & Company) — demonstrating that gender and ethnic diversity are clearly correlated with profitability
  • The one startup debt you can’t pay back — Phin Barnes — Describing the risks of diversity debt
  • loginDiversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion — Laura Sherbin and Ripa Rashid

Building an inclusive culture

Tools for promoting inclusion

Goal setting

Meeting challenges

Managing conflict

Growing from mistakes

Building and Scaling Company Culture16 links

Building a company culture

Scaling a company culture

Pitfalls in establishing and expanding company culture

Joiners and Leavers4 minutes, 31 links

Hiring and retaining

For more information on hiring for technical roles, take a look at the Holloway Guide to Technical Recruiting and Hiring.

Hiring for “culture fit”

Alternatives to “culture fit”

Firing

When and why to fire

How to fire

Replacing key leadership

Office Space8 links

To open plan or not to open plan?

Company Culture and Distributed Teams14 links

If you’re interested in distributed teams, check out Holloway’s Syllabus on Remote Work. The full Holloway Guide to Remote Work will publish in Spring 2020. To get an exclusive discount on the Guide, join our waitlist!

Remote teams

Working with contractors

The Risks of Getting Culture Wrong13 links

Case study: GitHub

Case study: Uber

Case study: Volkswagen

Case study: Wells Fargo

🐉 Hic sunt dracones

We’ve included articles here that you might see cited for their takes on organizational culture. We’re sure the authors have the best intentions, but we’ve found their advice to be counterproductive. In particular, we recommend that readers think twice before asking colleagues or employees to work for equity only, at all hours, in explicitly non-diverse cultures, and so on. Such expectations can undermine an inclusive culture.

Further Resources5 minutes, 66 links

Reference cases

Books

Books on collaboration and empathy

Books on leadership

Books on values

Blogs

Free tools

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