Kristen Hamilton, CEO and co-founder of Koru
By Kristen Hamilton
August 6, 2015

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you build a strong team? is written by Kristen Hamilton, CEO and co-founder at Koru.

Two years ago, I co-founded Koru. I’m not a serial entrepreneur with dozens of ventures under my belt (Koru is my second startup in 15 years), but I do have a deep passion for the education space and a deep-seated belief that a successful business is not about the “business model” alone. I know that without the right people on board, even the most brilliant idea will fall flat. Culture is everything, and in order to find success, you have be intentional about it.

Create a culture of “we”
Culture is the alchemy of a startup. It’s the thing that makes everything come together, and when sh*t hits the fan (because it will) it’s what matters most. Your company culture is the only thing that will keep your team together and help them push forward during tough times instead of hitting a brick wall.

As CEO, I made sure to develop a culture of “we.” We have each other’s backs. We listen to each other. And we do have strong opinions, but they are loosely held because we check our egos at the door. We believe strong teams only stay strong in a culture of transparency. We also recognize that admitting when you’ve made a mistake is not only admirable, it’s a necessity. We view feedback as a gift. By making it okay to fail, our entire team can learn in a nurturing environment.

See also: How managers can stay connected to their team

Reward hard work
A team is at its strongest when every player on the team is a responsible owner, working in service of those around them and for a higher purpose. In our case, we advocate passionately for our Korus (our program participants) and our employer and college partners. What is your company’s higher purpose – and is your team organized around it?

Teamwork is integral to the intentional culture we work hard to foster and preserve. Achieving our vision certainly requires hard work, but we also make time for fun. We go out for coffee breaks and happy hours. We have crazy off-site adventures like boating scavenger hunts, beer-bike pedicabs and curling competitions (I am Canadian, after all). We purposefully set aside time to get to know each other on a more personal level.

See also: The difference between a great leader and a good one

Help employees find their purpose
When every member of a team is coming to the table as his or her best self, then you have a team that is working together in service of something bigger. When a team is doing this with total transparency, each member is more likely to self-identify his or her strengths and weaknesses, allowing the team to work together to fill competency gaps. If you are doing something that is purposeful to you, and you’ve built a culture that aligns with that purpose, you’ll have a business and team that will work hard to achieve your collective vision and most importantly, enjoy doing it.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you build a strong team?

The easiest way to reduce employee turnover by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

3 misconceptions about leading a successful team by Samantha Dwinell, vice president of talent management at Texas Instruments.

How to build a strong team without micromanaging by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Here’s the secret to getting better employees by Julia Hartz, co-founder and president of Eventbrite.

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