Can Company Culture Be Scaled?

Scaling company culture is difficult but not impossible.

Once a startup grows and becomes a company, company culture can become hard to maintain. Effectively being able to keep the culture alive while also growing is a hard task, but it can be done through intentional practices.

In the following excerpt from Move Fast: How Facebook Builds Software, coming out July 6, I discuss how Facebook managed to scale company culture.

Culture is very hard to scale.

Since the dot com boom, popular books have told the stories of successful cultural scalability: Netflix, Apple, Google, and Amazon. These companies have all been able to grow from a startup to a large company without sacrificing their culture of innovation.

A startup begins with a joyous, tight-knit team. The team innovates, makes a product, closes deals, and grows to employ thousands of people. But somewhere along the way, something happens. The startup becomes a “big company.” Employees start to dread coming into work.

Is this state of office stagnation unavoidable? Or can we reach a balance? Can companies get big without losing the fun camaraderie they had when they were small?

Fortunately, we have reason to be optimistic. There are a handful of large companies that have managed to systematize and scale the creative spirit that is so treasured by early employees of a startup. Facebook is one of these companies.

Facebook’s culture enables creative individuals to coexist with a large corporate workforce with clear focus and direction. Throughout my interviews with Facebook employees, a few themes emerged.

Facebook places a strong focus on individuals. Company management tries to ensure that individuals feel creatively fulfilled. Facebook employees have a strong sense of social cohesion, both across the company and within individual teams.

This is possible because employees across the organization truly believe they are doing something important. Facebook’s product direction is set from the top down, but individual employees have the freedom and the motivation for bottom-up innovation.

Facebook also has a set of unique cultural norms, including “code wins arguments.” These norms are quickly ingrained in new employees during an onboarding program known as boot camp.

Surveying the Facebook culture, it seems remarkably deliberate. Facebook has been able to scale its culture through specific decisions, not by accident.

While you are waiting for Move Fast: How Facebook Builds Software, check out our podcast clip below for the secret of successful venture capital firms.