June 05, 2024

I Found My Unicorn Company

Recently, Sara and I were on a call with a new connection who described her previous workplace as a “unicorn company,” where the company’s values were deeply felt in everyday work life. Since leaving that company, she hasn’t found anywhere quite like it.

“Ei is my unicorn company,” I replied almost reflexively. After the call, Sara asked me why.

Several things came to mind: I feel challenged and stretched but supported. I believe in what we do. The team is high-performing and dedicated. All of those are important.

But, at the risk of sounding trite, it’s something more: At Ei, I’m encouraged to bring my whole self to work—yes, my skills, but also my personality quirks, the hobbies I’m pursuing outside of work, life milestones like my wedding to my wonderful wife, Ann, or even how we spent our previous weekend. I really feel a sense of belonging on this team. Many of my gay friends can't say the same about their workplaces.

In honor of Pride Month—a time to intentionally celebrate belonging—we’d like to share some strategies we've used to create a sense of belonging on our team and offer insight on how you might do the same.

Start with recruitment

When I applied for my role at Ei, I was drawn to several things: a gleaming website full of creative and clearly brilliant people, a sense of warmth and humanity from how the organization talked about its approach to learning, and its commitment to diversity and equity. It felt immediately like a place I could imagine myself working.

But what really won me over was a note in the application which said: “As part of our commitment to equity, we do not negotiate salaries. We believe that the process of negotiating rewards those who are good negotiators, which isn’t a core skill set for this role. We also know that salary negotiations tend to disproportionately benefit white people and men, a dynamic we are committed to interrupting.

It was a clear and palpable demonstration of values.

If you want to create the same impression for potential candidates, start by auditing your careers page, job descriptions, social media feeds, and website. Do they convey that your organization fosters a strong sense of belonging? Do they signal your most important values? Are they going to attract people who share those values?

Match the promise

There are countless approaches to creating a sense of belonging in your organization. The key is to create ways that are authentic to your values. Ensure your employee experience actually matches the promise you made. Here are a few that work for us:

1. Create spaces for (frequent) positive feedback

Research from the Gottman Institute suggests a 6:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback is the “magic” formula for high-performing teams. Knowing that, we've been running a series of positive feedback experiments this year.

This week, we’re showering one team member with praise. Last week, we all gave verbal, in-the-moment positive feedback. The boost to morale is evident.

So, ask yourself: where in your work can you create more opportunities for positive feedback?

2. Celebrate healthy disagreement

Liane Davey's work emphasizes that productive conflict is essential for high-functioning teams. She advocates for creating a safe environment where team members can express differing opinions and engage in healthy debate. This helps to surface issues early, fosters innovation, and strengthens team cohesion.

For those who are naturally more conflict-avoidant, embracing it takes practice. In a recent Ei team meeting, we faced a challenging decision. We each voiced our perspectives, with one teammate’s viewpoint contrasting with the rest. Tensions were high and it felt prickly. But, we paused for a moment to understand the motivations behind each perspective. Ultimately, that colleague shared that, while they didn’t agree with our intended direction, they trusted the process and the team and would support the decision.

Does productive tension show up on your team? Celebrate it! Make room for it. The absence of tension likely signals a lack of safety to voice dissenting opinions. Tension means your team cares and is advocating for their priorities.

3. Honor and highlight individuality

At Ei, we honor the individual lived-experiences on our team. That’s looked like recognizing cultural holidays, creating space to talk about experiences with prejudice, and supporting team members through challenging life events. And, it’s also included celebrations, gifts, and moments of fun where we’ve gotten to learn more about each other and where we come from. In the past, our monthly anti-racism meetings have served both as a place for complex and difficult discussions and as a venue for celebrating things like AANHPI heritage month with games and songs.

Everyone on the Ei team brings a unique perspective and experience to the table, and honoring those differences can be exciting. How you do it on your team might be different than how we do it on ours. Start by creating space for your people to celebrate their true selves.

Hold yourself accountable

Two years ago, we established a North Star for our team—that every employee can emphatically say about Ei, “I feel like I belong and I do my best work here." This year, we realized that, while most of us felt this way, we had no tangible way to measure it or notice when we might be getting off track. That felt like a missing piece.

So, we’ve implemented monthly pulse checks—quick, anonymous surveys at the end of each month asking the team to report how they’re experiencing their work. With this cadence, it’s much easier to address issues before they significantly impact the culture. It’s not a solution for belonging itself, but it ensures we don’t lose sight of our course.

Do your employees regularly report how it feels to work at your organization? Do you know what you’ll do if and when you find out there’s room for improvement?

I’m feeling not just pride 🏳️‍🌈, but also gratitude

I’m spending June celebrating my pride. But, as I write this, pride is not my primary sentiment—it’s gratitude. Gratitude for the LGBTQ+ trailblazers who paved the way for decades so that I can freely write a post like this today. And for the team at Ei, my unicorn company, where acceptance and celebration of individuality are not just encouraged but are fundamental to our culture.

I’m reminded of a classic Dr. Seuss quote: “There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Our dual hopes for Pride Month (and beyond!) are that each of you can bring the you-est you to work and that you’re doing what you can to ensure your colleagues can too.

If you’re interested in building a stronger culture of belonging on your team or at your organization, let us know. We’re always here to help.

The Spark You’ve Been Looking For

Visit our store to find award-winning education tools used by individuals and teams around the world.