Real, meaningful dev team culture must go beyond ping pong and other superficial perks.

Past the Ping Pong Table for Better Dev Team Culture

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Bahman Zakeri, Founder, CEO, and Chief Strategist/Xivic

Bahman Zakeri Founder, CEO, and Chief Strategist/Xivic

There’s quite a bit of press paid to the quirky perks of startup offices. From ping pong tables to beer kegs to pet-friendly work spaces, sometimes it seems like offices are more into having fun than getting work done. But employees who are healthy and appreciated are going to be more inspired, more creative, and more productive.

In order to stay ahead in this competitive industry, startups need team members who have drive, stamina, and, most importantly, a constant stream of creativity. And it takes a lot more to inspire creativity than just a laptop. It takes a culture of support, trust, and, yes, a few extra perks, to bring out the best in employees.


Put people first.

At Xivic, we never underestimate the importance of a strong, positive workplace culture, and we see the benefits of our efforts in the variables and outputs from our employees. We consider the maintenance of our company culture to be a task worthy of our full-time attention. It’s easy to push culture aside when the projects and deadlines are piling up, but without it, you’re not inspiring creativity or accountability, and you’re not going to be producing the best work possible. We’re constantly asking individuals what kind of output and feedback they’re getting and updating our plans based on what they have to say.

We have two offices—one in Los Angeles, and the other in Romania—and we go to great lengths to keep both offices informed and in communication. Our employees are brilliant thought leaders who not only work together, but also genuinely like each other. The community is formed with a clear understanding of everyone’s roles and how these roles should work together. We’re all on the same page. It’s important for all employees to be aware of what everyone else is doing, learn about each other’s tasks, and think holistically about projects. For companies who are just learning to implement this, I suggest starting small. Try to get people within individual departments to work together on one task, and then start expanding to other departments. It’s always easier to collaborate within a department and then grow from there.

We strive to be life coaches for our employees rather than just people who get across immediate needs for work-related projects. To this end, we provide interoffice training every other week. Our last topic was communication—internal, with our clients, and just in our everyday lives. The fun happens after we’re in alignment and understand each other’s goals.

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Take the fun outside.

OfficePoll-smallWe do a lot of activities, in-office and out. We recently all volunteered through L.A. Works for the Voice for the Animals Foundation and got to hang out with a bunch of rescued kittens. Who doesn’t love team-building activities where you’re covered in adorable kittens? Before that, my Los Angeles office took a pottery class together (almost everyone has a uniquely shaped vase or jar on their desk now) while my Romania office enjoyed a painting class.

When you get your team doing group activities outside of the office, away from the phones, emails, and deadlines, they can bond on another level. While the term “team building” still connotes a shudder-inducing image of trust falls and name games, giving people the opportunity to bond organically strengthens their work relationships.

Create purposeful perks.

You want to support an emotional environment, not just a physical one. The biggest mistake we made in the beginning was not being vocal and discussing the reasons behind the perks we were offering. For example, we started offering free lunch on Fridays, and I noticed that people would come to the kitchen, take their food, and go back to their desk. That wasn’t what I expected. We had a meeting and made clear that the purpose was to craft a time for everyone to get together, share a meal, and build our bond. Free snacks and ping pong tables shouldn’t be something employees expect, but something they appreciate for what it brings to our work community.

We recently moved our Los Angeles office to a location with more nearby restaurants, parks, and things to do. The goal was to provide a better balance of work and play for our employees. Sometimes team members will take a break and shoot hoops at the park across the street or, instead of meeting in our conference room, we’ll head down to the restaurant next door and soak in the sun.

Trust is the ultimate perk.

BrianPost-smallThe team has the flexibility to work remotely when needed, and to come and go for appointments and other life obligations. I’m not a stickler for the 9-to-5 timeframe; I’m more focused on making sure the work gets done. Instill trust in your team and you will get results. We run surveys to get feedback on our culture-building efforts. Even though they’re anonymous, people often attach their names. That’s a testament to the trusting relationships we’ve built.

Ultimately, no matter how many amazing perks or free lunches you offer employees, if you don’t have a solid foundation and a strong work culture where people feel they are respected, valued, and invested in, everything else is just a temporary distraction. By putting our team’s well being and happiness front and center, we create an engaging and dynamic workplace. We expect a lot from our employees, but we set them up to propel the company and themselves forward creatively and professionally.


Bahman Zakeri is the founder, CEO, and chief strategist of Xivic, Inc. For over 20 years, he has helped create impactful products and measurable marketing solutions for B2B and B2C brands spanning automotive, consumer electronics, healthcare, hospitality, and entertainment. He heads up the L.A. office and lives in the Hollywood Hills with his love and wife, Leila.

Connect with Bahman on:  Twitter  |  LinkedIn


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