In-house Issues: The Tribe Vibe


The culture of in-house groups impacts the quality of their work more than any other aspect of their departments – more than the talent of their designers, more than the processing power of their computers and more than the support they’re afforded by upper management. Actually, this statement minimizes the importance of culture. The values of a team and how those values are expressed determine the professional, personal and spiritual success of corporate creative groups.


It may seem counterintuitive, but in-house groups should place a higher priority on taking actions to improve the vibe of the creative tribe than on producing great deliverables. This is because the culture of the team is the foundation that the creation of design rests upon.

The values that are critical to a healthy culture are:

  • Making the team the priority – minimizing egos
  • Respect – team members treating each other as they would like to be treated
  • Humor – nothing (other than an individual’s pain) is worth taking too seriously
  • Embracing foibles –the individual embracing both their own and their peers’ – the ability of team members to laugh at themselves
  • Communication – respectful honesty, saying the hard stuff and airing grievances
  • Not sweating the small stuff – the team learning to live with what it can’t rise above
  • Compromise

The adoption of the values listed above directly impact the dynamics of a group by fostering trust, collaboration, playfulness, honesty and camaraderie. These dynamics then impact the quality of the design artifacts created by the team.

  • Trust allows for risk taking which fosters innovation
  • Collaboration encourages sharing of ideas allowing for an additive evolution of design to take place
  • Honesty allows for active positive criticism to occur resulting in aggressive refinement of concepts
  • Playfulness results in creative out of the box solutions
  • Camaraderie creates a sense of shared purpose inspiring complete commitment to and ownership of the outcome

Most of all, though, a positive culture creates an environment that is emotionally healthy, nurturing and sustainable. Not to sound all New Age, but that seems like a more important goal than even, dare I say it, creating great design.

Some concrete tactics for achieving cultural greatness include:

  • Hiring for attitude first and talent second
  • Not tolerating negative behavior no matter how talented the offender
  • Providing not only technical training but professional interpersonal training as well
  • Joining and participating in design organizations and conferences
  • Managers leading by example (pick up a copy of Bob Sutton’s “Good Boss, Bad Boss” today)
  • Holding informal meetings to discuss and document the team’s core values (even if corporate values have already been established)
  • Affording group members who are informal leaders and influencers opportunities to organize team culture initiatives