How to keep the company culture uniform from 40 to 1800 people

1 minute read

In the first quarter of 2010, net sales at Zappos were up almost 50 percent, and we’ve added several hundred new employees. The growth has made Amazon very happy, but it’s also creating new challenges. I’ve noticed that at company happy hours, you don’t see as many employees from different departments hanging out with one another.

To address that, we’ve begun tracking employee relationships. When employees log in to their computers, we ask them to look at a picture of a random employee and then ask them how well they know that person — the options include “say hi in the halls,” “hang out outside of work,” and “we’re going to be longtime friends.” We’re starting to keep track of the number and strength of cross-departmental relationships — and we’re planning a class on the topic. My hope is that we can have more employees who plan to be close friends.
— Hsieh T. (2010) Why I sold Zappos

Zappos has a great internal culture, one that should be envied and copied almost anywhere, or at least one from which take inspiration. The excerpt above is from the book “Delivering Happiness”.

The problem Tony explains above exists in many, many companies. I’m recently thinking that there’s a threshold around 40 people. In my experience I found that around this point, even in an openspace, you start losing track of new people coming in. Proximity certainly plays a role in this.

Saying this in a different way: before 40 people connecting with the other people in the office is possible and just happens. When you reach about 40 people keeping in touch with everyone starts requiring an effort.

The approach quoted above is very interesting because it shows the understanding of the problem above as a big player in creating a proper company culture. It’s an experiment to track and foster relationships in a company of 1.800 people, or, in other terms, to increment the proximity of people even at that scale.