The appeal small businesses have often stems from a strong company culture. When a team is smaller, all levels of the organization are typically closer and engaged with one another on a daily basis.
Consider the experience of Sam Malouf and his wife, Kacie: When they started their bedding company, Malouf, in Logan, Utah, they had a small team. And each day, Sam told me, that small team would have lunch together.
"That was a good way to generate ideas and fix problems," he wrote in an email. "As more employees came on board, that time we shared helped everyone get to know about each other's families and interests."
Today, with more than 200 employees, the company is still keeping this tradition alive and still maintains that small business feel by having a culinary team cook lunch for everyone each day. "I think a lot of businesses would see that as cost prohibitive for a staff that big," Malouf continued. "But, lunch together has been a great way to talk and learn about other people's ideas since the beginning."
Here are more ways employers can keep their company culture alive as they grow:
1. Function like a family.
When teams start out together, they begin to feel like family. This is something Deborah Sweeney holds on to. Sweeney is the owner and CEO of MyCorporation, a leading provider of online document-filing services, based out of Calabasas, Calif., that helps clients form a corporation or limited liability company.
As her small team grew to more than 50 employees, she shared, she strived to keep the family spirit alive. "We work with so many startups that the startup mentality has rubbed off on us," Sweeney wrote by email. "We literally dance around the office to pass out paychecks on Fridays."
The fun goes beyond payday. Employees also engage in a variety of team activities. "We go on field trips; we do live talent shows starring our team members and we hold a potluck for pretty much any occasion," she wrote. "Most of all, we treat one another with kindness and encourage each other to contribute. This allows us to focus on the big picture and work hard, but also enjoy those work days, too."
Despite the company's expansion over the course of six years, everyone still feels close and connected.
2. Keep executives accessible.
A major appeal for employees in a small company culture is accessibility: Employees and senior leadership are able to see each other more and communicate better. But an unfortunate side effect of growth is that executives become more distant.
Power Digital Marketing, an online marketing agency based out of San Diego, Calif., grew from 12 employees in 2014 to 45 employees this year. But CEO Grayson Lafrenz is well versed in keeping a strong company culture alive.
"Everything we do is very intentional, with each employee's happiness and well-being as our number one priority," he said via email. "For example, each month, our team holds personal one-on-one meetings between executive team members and junior and newer team members. This ensures that everyone feels like a priority and that their voice is heard. It also deepens the bonds and relationships between our team members."
These intimate sit-downs show the company cares about making its employees feel valued. Team meetings help maintain a stronger rapport among all levels of the organization, no matter their size.
3. Pay attention to feedback.
A small company setting enables employees to regularly provide feedback. That way, management responds and takes action to suit the team's needs. Unfortunately, however, growing organizations may lose this sense of staying "in touch," in which case employee feedback falls on deaf ears. And when employees don't see the changes they need, they leave.
David Waring, co-founder of FitSmallBusiness.com, a New York City-based online publication that serves small business owners, faced this issue head on.
"We were so focused on growing the business in the early days that we did not place a big enough emphasis on making sure people got to know each other personally," he told me via email. "After reading some complaints about our New York office on Glassdoor that former employees had left, we met with the team and decided to do a quarterly outing together."
His solution helped create a sense of unity for the entire team. Today, the company hosts weekly video conferences, with all hands on deck.
"Each staff member updates the team on what he or she has been working on over the last week," he wrote. "This helps keep the familiarity alive, especially considering that some of our staff is distributed throughout the country."
These conferences further help determine what employees need to succeed. Once employers know what their team members need, they should keep their processes simple and in one place.
Consider tools like EverythingBenefits, which simplifies administration and delivers a better employee experience This software integrates with existing solutions, helping employers handle compliance, while making enrollment easy for employees.
Maintaining a strong company culture is especially difficult when employees work in various locations. Regular outings and video conferences are great for keeping everyone connected, and software solutions can help streamline HR processes to make both the employer and the employee's lives easier.
4. Continue to learn from each other.
When David Kalt founded Reverb, an online music gear marketplace located in Chicago, he started a simple tradition -- all employees would participate in a stand-up meeting. They started with five employees crammed in a small room above a drum shop.
Now, nearly 200 employees gather each Thursday in an unfinished basement.
"At each meeting, three to four team members jump into the Fight Club-style circle to speak about whatever's on their mind," Kalt wrote via email. "Every story gives employees a piece of advice they can apply to their daily work."
This allows them to get to know one other better and helps them learn from the advice and experiences of others. Reverb's company culture is founded on learning and openness, Kalt said; and as CEO, he said he keeps that spirit alive.