Culture ain’t jeans or Ping-Pong

As you walk through one of the hip Paypal offices in Chicago, giggles echo from the Ping-Pong tables. Co-workers compete over their lunch break and hold nothing back as they slam balls at their opponent.

At the Ultimate Software headquarters outside of Miami, casual jeans and comfortable clothing are around every corner as employees sip coffee in office spaces decorated like cities around the world. You can have a latte in Italy or an espresso in the jungle.

But let me assure you: Culture ain’t about jeans, coffee or the gaming tables. Those are tactics to help support the culture you desire, but they are not the culture. Culture is much deeper than that — as both Paypal and Ultimate Software, who have very attractive cultures, know.

There isn’t a hotter topic right now than culture. Employees want to work for organizations that have a great culture, and senior executives want to be known for having one.

But, for the most part, the word culture is so broad that many forget how compelling cultures are created. Hence, we start to think it is about jeans and Ping-Pong tables.

“Organizations with a high level of engagement do report 22 percent higher productivity, according to a new meta-analysis of 1.4 million employees conducted by the Gallup Organization.” — Harvard Business Review

So what is some of the secret sauce that you need to engage your people and create the culture you desire for your team or organization? Well, here are a few of the attributes that are common in high-performing cultures:

Minds and hearts

The accessories of dress, drinks and gaming tables are just that — nice accessories.

What permeates in the most compelling cultures is that people’s minds and hearts are engaged in the purpose and vision for where the organization is heading. They buy into and want to be a part of something greater than themselves.

Language drives behavior

No, I’m not talking about only posters on the wall. I am talking about having and embracing clear language about how you and your people will navigate their experience together.

Language is leveraged as a tool to create the norms for how people travel together as a team or company.


Culture is not something that is dictated from above. It is co-created every day by the way the group thinks, acts and interacts together.

The culture is grown moment by moment each day by the way the organization empowers its people to participate in the creation of what they want. The employees become the ambassadors for the culture.


The most engaged teams and organizations intentionally build the culture they desire. It doesn’t happen overnight, but they know that intentional steps along the way lead to an authentic and inspired culture. They may wear jeans, but there’s much more to it than that.

What are you intentionally doing to lead an authentic culture?

Jason V. Barger is a globally celebrated keynote speaker, leadership coach and author of “Thermostat Cultures,” “Step Back from the Baggage Claim” and “ReMember.” He is founder of Step Back Leadership Consulting, a Columbus-based company that works with businesses and organizations worldwide.