Cater2.me has grown from its home base in San Francisco to an operation spread across the country, with employees in 11 markets. As we’ve grown, we’ve spent ample time ensuring that our sales and marketing messages, operational procedures, and technical infrastructure are consistent across the geographic divide.
In addition to these external measures, we’ve focused on ensuring that we have a strong, consistent internal company culture. That way, all employees – whether our first employee in SF or our newest hires in Atlanta – feel part of the same team. Culture, like any key part of a growing business, needs structure and process to remain consistent as it scales. But unlike other aspects, culture truly flourishes when allowed to develop organically. Here’s our recipe for building a strong company culture across the country:
Our hiring process is the most important component of establishing and perpetuating our culture. When we set out to hire new employees, we look for a certain set of characteristics (like intellectual curiosity, passion for food, creativity, and positivity) that we believe will result not only in top-notch work, but also allow the new person to mesh well with our existing staff. We have each candidate talk to a wide selection of the staff. By including a variety of people from different departments, different seniority levels, and different cities in the hiring process, we can be confident that any new employee will be a great cultural fit.
Clear and open communication, both from the top down and the bottom up, is essential to establishing and maintaining any corporate culture. Our primary method of communicating company happenings is through bi-weekly all-hands team meetings. We get all of the offices together on a video conference and share updates from across the company. We welcome new hires to the fold and recognize accomplishments, successes, and areas for continued improvement.
One key to these syncs is combining an update from the founders with updates from different team members of all levels. Rather than just hearing from leadership, we hear updates about each of our cities and departments from the employees carrying out the work on a daily basis.
In addition to formal communication, employees have also taken it upon themselves to create a company newsletter; it aims to share more about coworkers, remind everyone of employee anniversaries and birthdays, and show pictures of team events and outings.
For teams to work effectively together across departments and across the country, having a personal connection is crucial. We start the process of building cross-team relationships early. For example, employees of smaller or newer cities do their new employee training in one of our larger markets; this gives them the opportunity to meet a large part of the team early on. We also build on these relationships with semi-annual retreats that bring together everyone from across the company to get to know each other on a more personal level.
Furthermore, we set aside budget for fun team events in each market and for team dinners when the founders travel to each of our offices. In addition to these structural ways to encourage relationships, a more organic form has arisen over the past few years. At the end of each week, we share a list of “props” or shout-outs, which members of the team give to coworkers to thank or recognize them for something great they’ve done recently. This has grown into a forum where everyone can see how others are building and fostering great relationships.
A big part of our pitch to our clients is that a good team meal is fundamental to building company culture around a common table. Cater2.me is a company built and based around food. We’re constantly thinking about food, talking about food and, yes, eating food. From daily lunches to new vendor tastings, we’re continually drawn together by great meals. If there’s one common thread that runs through every person in the company, it’s a love of good food. We foster that commonality as a way to bring the team together.
No matter where I go across the company, I always feel at home because we’ve stuck to this recipe. Whether you’re part of a five-person team in one office or a five-thousand-person team spread across the globe, company culture is important. Remember that creating a strong, consistent culture is a bit like cooking: put the right ingredients together, add something of your own to spice it up, and you’ll make a product where the whole is greater than the sum of the components.