How to Activate Startup Culture in Your Workplace

By | 2016-12-01T19:13:49+00:00 August 5th, 2015|Startup Culture|

Companies large and small are waking up to the fact that culture matters.

Founders, entrepreneurs, and intrapreneurs, the innovative teams within large organizations, are on a mission to create exciting, authentic environments that communicate a sense of personality, passion and self-expression. They’re looking to enable and sustain the kind of agility that makes quick pivots and the constant flow of ideas possible. When these flow together in equal measure, what results is something we’re calling startup culture.

For the past year, turnstone researchers, in partnership with Steelcase WorkSpace Futures researchers, traveled the U.S. to spend time with founders of small companies to learn about what they value, how they do business, how they craft their teams, and perhaps most interestingly, how they foster a culture that produces engaged employees and attracts and retains talent.

After sifting through months of notes, we’ve identified four common values in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. If you’re ready to activate your own sense of startup culture, here’s how you can put them to work for you:

1. Passion: 

Passion is that guiding north star that catalyzes founders and entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams and ideas for the world. Whether those dreams take root in a new product, app, non-profit venture, innovative service or other pursuit, passion drives everything founders do. What’s more, they put their passion on display in their space to inspire their team and influence company culture. This kind of persistent optimism and laser focus helps attract and retain like-minded talent who not only bring skills to the table, but a shared vision and commitment to the work.

  • TIP: Wondering how to weave your passion into your surroundings? Display your mission statement and work-related motivational quotes on your walls, highlight customer wins, testimonials and photos of your efforts to communicate your dedication.

2. Agility: 

The agile work environments of startups is amazing: no bureaucracy. No red tape. No committees. But it isn’t just the organizational structure that remains agile—it’s the physical space, too. Workers have been supplied with options and available spaces to move between standing height tables, traditional desks and lounge settings—and they have the freedom to use them all. This kind of flexible environment promotes the fast exchange of ideas, strategy and action items, directly impacting business results.

  • TIP: Want to become more nimble? Offer your team a palette of places and postures from which to choose throughout their day. Allow them to choose the settings that best help them to focus, and model their use yourself.

3. Personality:

Much like passion, personality is key for startups. Gone are the days of beige and boring spaces—these founders inject their unique view on the world into everything they do. For many entrepreneurs, this exhibits itself in the curation of unique items for their space: reclaimed or repurposed wood. Rich materials like wool and felt. Commissioned artwork. Founders have realized that feeling comfortable in your space is the first step to being engaged and productive, two things that spur forward movement for the company.

  • TIP:  Inject personality into your space by paying attention to small details and spending money on the things you value most. If you lead a team of coders who sit most of the day, perhaps task chairs top your list. If your people congregate to the cafe or lounge, add more of those spaces. Regardless of what you plan to do, do it in a curated way that represents who you are and what you’re about.

4. Authenticity: 

The freedom to truly be yourself without compromise is the holy grail of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We don’t want to pretend to be something we’re not when we get to the office—we want to be accepted and authentic inside the workplace and out. To do this, celebrate each person and the diversity they bring to the team by inviting people to bring in photos, trip souvenirs and other personal items to add to the workplace.

  • TIP: With studies showing 50% of American workers put in over 40 hours a week, adjusting your office to match the people inside is critical. Try creating a wall designed to hold and display personal photos of your team and send the message that plants and other objects from home will always have a place at work, too.


Jane Graham types away as turnstone’s brand writer and social media gal. The pen behind a 2010 best-selling book and experienced ghostwriter, Jane’s voice has powered articles featured on, Yahoo! Small Business and elsewhere.