5 Ways to Foster Team Culture on a Startup Budget

Want to make it onto one of those 'best places to work' lists? Here's how.
5 Ways to Foster Team Culture on a Startup Budget
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Youth Mobilizer, Speaker & CEO, Lovell Corporation
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This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Company Culture, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.

A strong  culture is an integral part of successful ventures. A motivated team can translate into better work productivity, increased product quality, enhanced customer support and overall office spirit.

Related: How to Build Social Capital Within Your Team

Benefits like these are the reasons that the best places to work are those that foster team culture. (Work-life balance and a healthy work environment are close offshoots.)

For examples, consider a list titled "Baltimore's Best Places to Work in 2015." The list's winners featured such perks as bring your pet to work day, paintball outings and office gyms.

Similarly, free daily lunches, volunteer days and family games were shared themes among Crain's  Business' 2015 “Best Places to Work in NYC.”

As these lists revealed, your team builds the foundation for your culture to grow and sets the overall tone. But if you try to build a structure on soft ground, it will likely fail. And starting a company with a weak team culture and scale has the same result. A strong, sturdy culture for your team established from the beginning will determine your company's overall tone.

But creating a prosperous team can be tough during your company’s initial growth stages, or, worse, when it's in bootstrapping mode. So how do you foster team spirit on a startup budget? Here are five quick, practically free ideas you can employ to build positive team spirit:

1. Homemade surprises 

As has stated: “Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time." In a similar vein, nothing says appreciation quite like the boss taking that time to make homemade cookies or cupcakes for the team.

Home-baked goods not only reflect extra care but can be surprisingly cheaper than store-bought goods (and much tastier). So, be creative. Bake or cook up your favorite dish for a snack or lunch and share it with your team.

2. Group crafts 

Even those who are not overly creative can benefit from activities that promote self-expression. Art therapy has proven therapeutic benefits for individuals experiencing illness, trauma and struggles, and also has professional application. Art helps professionals achieve personal insight, resolve conflicts, improve interpersonal skills and, most importantly, reduce negative stress. All of these factors foster an enhanced workplace culture.

Consider offering an interactive crafting activity to your team. For Halloween, I hosted a pumpkin-carving contest at my office. I picked up some fun decorations and paint from a dollar store along with a few pumpkins and carving materials from home. Then we all had fun seeing the final masterpieces take shape. Whether the context is an office decorating party, a vision board creation or holiday-themed activity, group crafts are a fun way to inspire your team members and learn more about them.

Related: 8 Ways to Motivate Employees Into an Unstoppable Team 

3. Games night

Play can lead to more creative and adaptable workers. In Response of the Brain to Enrichment, neuroscience researcher Marian Diamond described how “enriched” playful environments powerfully shape the cerebral cortex -- the area of the brain where the highest cognitive processing takes place.

"There are measurable benefits to enriching [making playful] an individual’s environment in whatever terms that individual perceives his immediate environment as enriched," Diamond concluded. And some companies have taken note: Apple, , Twitter and are just a few of the corporate leaders that have adopted this playful attitude in the workplace. When I visited Google headquarters, for instance, bins were plentiful, followed by Foosball tables, giant slides and a variety of games for employees.

Certainly, you don’t need Google’s budget to tap into these benefits of play. Hosting a games night is sure to inspire your team's creative spirit. Grab a deck of cards and chips for a fun poker night or, better yet, have each of your team members bring his or her favorite game to your party. Games are an effective way to relieve stress, promote team conversation and inspire team spirit.

4. Motivational content

According to a 2013 State of the Global Workplace study from Gallup, only 13 percent of employees surveyed worldwide considered themselves to be engaged. The bulk of "unengaged" employees, meanwhile, indicates a lack of in the work environment. An occasional inspirational quote or message to your team is an affordable idea that can go a long way to improving employee motivation and commitment to your company.

As this same study showed, 67 percent of employees surveyed reported feeling engaged when their managers focused on positive characteristics.To tap into this insight, reflect on what personally motivates you.

Do you have favorite quotes, TEDtalks, music, articles, books or videos that inspire you? Share that content with your team. A simple quote emailed at the start of the day, or a funny photo at the end of a long day’s work, can help keep spirits high and create a positive team mood.

5. Recognition 

Recognition is the best way to make your team feel valued and appreciated, which in turn will build your company’s progress. As an American Psychological Association Harris Interactive 2012 Workplace Survey indicated, employees who reported feeling valued were also 60 percent more likely to do their very best for their employers.

Fortunately, recognition need not be an expensive proposition. While employee incentives are part of a $100-plus billion industry, non-cash incentives make up 46 percent. Verbal recognition and a pat on the back can go a long way. A recognition strategy could be as simple as sending a shout-out on Friday to recognize a member’s progress or emailing a quick digital card to the "team member of the month."

These small gestures not only show that you care and you value your team’s efforts, they can enhance your team’s self-confidence. The key to building team culture is to remember that your foundation is built on attitude and motivation. Activities that enhance self-esteem, promote expression and create positive memories contribute to your overall team spirit.

Related: 3 Ways to Know If You Have the Right Team for 2016 and Beyond

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