How to Build a Culture Like Google: 7 Practical Ideas From 'The Internship'

The new movie featuring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as Google interns offers a rare glimpse into what makes the tech company sparkle.

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By Ashley Lee
Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in The Internship

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In The Internship, the comedy feature film that portrays two middle-aged, unemployed salesmen competing for jobs at Google, actor Vince Vaughn's character tells his former boss something that is sure to resonate with entrepreneurs. "We've had lots of jobs," he says. "We're trying to build a future."

The summer flick, which arrives in theaters today, was filmed on site at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. As the first production ever allowed to shoot there, The Internship offers a rare peek into the corporate campus and its culture.

"It was fun filming at Google. It was like the chocolate factory; it was crazy!" said Vaughn of the tech company's facilities at a special screening in New York City. "Google had a sense of humor. It's better than us calling it "Snoogle,' so it's good that they let us use the real place."

That real place, real name and those real company values are well-represented in the movie. Here are seven lessons from the lighthearted romp about how to build a company culture like Google's -- without a billion-dollar budget:

1. Don't skimp on the office decor. Vaughn and co-star Owen Wilson spend their summer surrounded by ping pong tables, gourmet food courts, colorful bikes, an outdoor volleyball court and a giant slide. "It was like being at an all-inclusive resort because the food was free," joked Vaughn. "They had nap pods that looked like Qantas Airlines!" To simulate this environment in your business without spending a fortune, opt for an open workspace with brightly painted walls, meeting rooms that inspire creativity with whiteboards and couches, and a distinct space for relaxation -- nap pods optional.

2. Articulate your company's unique identity. The film contends that the secret to working at Google is possessing an innate sense of "Googleyness." A Google spokeswoman who worked on the film explains: "We believe in having a collaborative, vibrant culture where people work really hard, but they still like to have fun as well. We are a serious company, but we don't take ourselves too seriously, which is one reason that we decided to collaborate on this project in the first place." Bring your team together by identifying what your company stands for and communicating it to employees. And consider showing off your company's personality in job postings to attract the right candidates.

3. Make your new-hire orientation a celebration. On the first day of Vaughn and Wilson's internship, all the summer recruits mingle at a meet-and-greet and in a series of introductory seminars, complete with goofy, spinning hats with the brand's logo. Putting together a fun welcome event, such as picnic or ice cream social, can help ensure that every new hire authentically feels part of the team.

Related: To Boost Efficiency, Rethink Company Culture

4. Engage employees with learning initiatives. In the film, Wilson's character accidentally attends a lecture on HTML5, which mirrors Google's Tech Talks that feature anyone from an innovator in the health sciences to a chef releasing a new book. "Google is a lot like a university campus," says the company spokeswoman. A business is only as strong as its team, so it's important to continue investing in your employees long after you've hired them. Put together an informal speaker series where upper-level team members share their success stories. Invite experts in a related field to the office for an industry update, or attend local seminars as a group.

5. Create team challenges to motivate employees. Wilson and Vaughn find themselves fumbling through several tech-based challenges throughout their summer internship. Spurring innovation through healthy competition among groups of co-workers can be effective off-screen, too. Consider creating a monthly challenge in the office, or build team bonds with recreational activities, such as a company softball league. Vaughn said of real-life Googlers, "They played that game Quidditch -- like for real, an intramural game."

6. Provide sales training and exposure to every worker. After the film's tech-savvy interns compete to create a new app, the final two challenges focus on customer service and sales. By exposing every member of the team, no matter what their position in the company, to these two critical areas of the business, everyone remembers that the customer always comes first. Even the best product on the shelves won't sell itself.

7. Use your internship program to develop talent. You won't see Vaughn or Wilson fetching coffee, making copies or running menial errands in The Internship. If those are your current intern assignments, hire an administrative assistant and refocus on shaping these potential new hires who could push your company forward. Making this change also gives the interns what they really want. "Try and stay enthusiastic," Vaughn advised the screening's audience of summer interns. "Even if you get a boss that's kind of a jerk or doesn't recognize that you're doing good, still try to get what you came for, which is the experience."

Related: What You Can Learn From the Great Gatsby and 9 Other Fictional Entrepreneurs

Ashley Lee

Ashley Lee is an entertainment, business and culture reporter in New York City.

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