5 Ways to Create a Team Culture That Employees Want to Contribute To
My daughter has been binge watching The Flash. Although the show is a bit too sci-fi for me, I’ve learned it has incredible lessons on teamwork. It also covers time travel and how changing a timeline can impact the future. As a result, the Flash has to have an infinite mindset—the one time he had a finite mindset, he created an alternative timeline, which negatively impacted the team he adores.
Over the course of my 25-year career, I’ve had great jobs and not-so-great jobs, and I’ve worked with tremendous teams and not-so-great teams. My experiences, both positive and negative, have shaped me into who I am today.
Early Impressions of the SentryOne Culture
Recently, SentryOne was acquired by SolarWinds. This event led me to reflect on the success SentryOne had in comparison to previous experiences in my career.
When I was first introduced to SentryOne, I was consulting and happy doing my own thing. I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to work for a company again. But I took the risk and joined the SentryOne team, which has more than paid off. It was an incredible ride with amazing teammates, but it’s been hard to describe why working at SentryOne was so different from all my previous experiences. That is, it was until I listened to Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast episode with Simon Sinek.
When I started working at SentryOne, I felt I had found my people and for the first time in my career, I felt like I fit in doing HR. The SentryOne team was kind, authentic, hardworking, and incredibly smart. The last part was relatively intimidating because super intelligent has not exactly been how I ever saw myself, but the team pushed me to be better. Their expectations made me top of my game and allowed me the space needed to read, learn, and grow, so I could support them.
A Great Culture Drives Purpose and Fulfillment
On Brene’s podcast, Simon shares a new definition of faith, which gave me goosebumps when I heard it. He said to Brene, "Faith is knowing that you're on a team even when you don't know the players." I have always believed you could find a culture and a place where you wanted to get out of bed and go to work every day, but until working at SentryOne, I didn’t know who the players were. Once there, I knew my “why” had been met with the place where we could pull it off together. We could create a special culture because the founders had already built a strong foundation.
Foundations for a Strong Culture
So, what made SentryOne so unique? We had each other’s backs and enjoyed challenging one another to be better because we were all moving together with a united mission—helping database professionals achieve breakthrough performance across physical, virtual, and cloud environments.
The SentryOne mission wasn’t simply words on paper, a website, or even on a wall. It was what truly drove us. In fact, with or without knowing it, SentryOne’s leadership team followed 5 principles for creating a strong culture that Simon and Brene talk about in their books and on the podcast episode.
1. Authentic Players
Culture isn’t something you can touch or feel, but you know you have a great culture when you meet the people and see the team in action. One of my first major experiences at SentryOne was because of a mistake I made. I had committed us to an event at UNCC College of Computer Science, and I missed that the event was the next day until it was almost too late. When I looped in the head of Support and the office manager to see how we could pull it off, they jumped into action, pulling together a presentation, attendees, and pizza for 25 students. Never had I seen such teamwork without any angst. I was never made to feel bad—they fully supported me and at one point asked me to stop apologizing. My SentryOne teammates were authentic and always ready to accept whatever challenge was in front of them.
2. Advance a Just Cause
Technology wasn’t really my thing before joining SentryOne, and in the beginning, I understood only that we monitored databases. However, over time I grew to understand we helped change lives. Most of the founding employees already had this understanding, but the rest of us really got it when we had a customer speak at one of our Friday lunches. He spoke about how his life was transformed after installing and using our product. He became teary eyed talking about how he was now able to be home in the evenings instead of troubleshooting all night. This was a defining moment where we were all moved by the new understanding that what we did was far greater than the technology.
3. Building Trusting Teams
The founding members of the company had a bond that at first was intimidating. Coming in new, you initially felt like you would never be able to have that tight of a relationship with the team. But very quickly it became apparent that the team embraced you once you showed you would work hard, never let them down, and stay on top of your craft. This became the culture.
4. Courage to Lead
Through this trust, employees were given responsibilities and decision-making opportunities far beyond their years of experience. One of my favorite moments was the day our relatively new CEO at the time (we’re now part of the SolarWinds family) told us we were going to do an acquisition and a global expansion at the same time. A few of us left the room, conferred, and came back in to let him know we had never done either of those two things on our own. When we told him, he didn’t even blink an eye. He said, “Well, go learn and figure it out.” The push to be courageous made us all better.
5. Seeking to Be Better
In the podcast episode, Brene and Simon talk about the desire to look to your competition with admiration so you can learn from them. (Simon calls this Study Rivals in his book.) We certainly did this, but it was even more. The practice at SentryOne was to do retrospectives on almost everything we did (sometimes formal and other times informal). At first, it was hard to be open to the feedback and let someone tell you how you could improve. I was even encouraged to listen to presentations, hone my speaking skills, and slow down my speed, which is hard to do. I don’t know anyone who likes to watch themselves on tape. The acquisition and the global expansion were dissected months after, and we all had things we learned from it. Today, it’s so easy to look back at my career and realize I’m better for this practice and will require it of myself and others as I go forward.
Wrapping It Up
In The Flash, you learn one change in the timeline can change everything. I think back to 7 years ago and wonder what my life would be like had I not taken the risk to work for the smallest company I had ever worked for—it’s hard to say where I might be. What I do know is I’m glad I didn’t change the timeline, and I look forward to this new chapter at SolarWinds.
Jenn is the VP of Human Resources at SentryOne, with more than 20 years of experience as an HR professional. Jenn has had a strong focus on building great cultures, training leaders, and putting strong performance management systems in place in both large and small companies, including AT&T, ADP, CPI Security, and now SentryOne. Jenn has helped SentryOne grow into a global company, with recognition from Gallup two years in a row for being an Exceptional Place to Work.