The Power of Company Culture

From the Pages of “How Google Works” by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg [Part 1]

Eric and Jonathan did an amazing job in giving us a vivid detail of what’s happening inside Google.

In this five part series, I will take you to some of the most definitive moments in Google’s history and we will talk about how they managed to turn a small Stanford dorm room startup into a Mountain View Giant that changed the entire world.

The first post of this series will talk about Google’s organizational culture and how it drove Googlers to do and achieve extraordinary things.

I hope you’ll find valuable insights that you can apply to your own company as you read and study this post. Ready?


This is the note that Larry posted on a bulletin board on the kitchen by the pool table. It came with a printed copy of some search results with its annoying, totally unrelated ads.

For instance, a search query of “Kawasaki H1B” yielded a lot of ads about lawyers helping people immigrate to the United States. Sucks huh?

The Power of Company Culture
“Kawasaki H1B”

Unlike other CEOs however, Larry made no phone calls nor arranged meetings to tackle the issue. Instead, he simply made a note, posted it and went home. Then came Monday. At exactly 5:05 AM, an email arrived confirming Eric’s assessment of the ads.

The email was sent by Jeff Dean and it contained detailed analysis of the problem and a solution. That email became the foundation of now Google’s multibillion dollar AdWords program.

And do you know what’s more amazing? Jeff and the engineers who worked on the solution over the weekend were not part of the Ads team. They were just bunch of dudes who happened to see Larry’s note on the kitchen.

Without being told, the team knew they had to do something and they did. That is the power of a strong company culture.

How would you like to have this kind of proactive culture in your company?

Why Having a Strong Company Culture is Important

In the past, many people think about their roles, salary and the company’s background first when looking for a job. Culture usually comes in last.

But today, the tables have turned. Soon, Millennials will dominate the workforce and this bunch of smart creatives needs a strong company culture to be more effective and productive.

Based on Eric’s “self-selection principle”, your company’s culture will attract people who believe in it and drive away those who don’t.

This is good if you’ve set up an ideal company culture but what if it’s the other way around? Can you see the difference?

Where Good Culture Comes From

A good company culture stems from the founders. But it is best reflected in the teams that form the company.

In his book, Eric outlined some key questions to ask your teams when building a strong company culture.

What do we care about?

What do we believe?

What do we want to be?

How do we want our company to act?

How do we want our company to make decisions?

As you discuss these questions, you’ll notice that your teams’ answers will encompass the very values you want for your company.

Their responses will also provide new insights and perspectives that will further strengthen your company’s culture. And of course, they will be more committed to it because that culture came from their beliefs and not just from another HR department.

Learning from Google’s Culture

While reading the book, I noticed that Google follows a set of organizational principles as a part of their company’s culture.

Let me highlight some of them here.

1. Crowded Workspaces

Google believed that spontaneous interactions and unhindered flow of ideas are the key to creating a productive workspace.

As Eric pointed out, “offices should be designed to maximize energy and interactions, not for isolation and status.”

The cubicle-centric world and its private offices want the steady state to be quiet when actually it has to be the exact opposite — interactive, boisterous and full of hectic energy. This is the type of workplace where most smart creatives thrive.

The crowded workspaces culture also kills the facilities envy culture. As Eric bluntly said, “When no one has a private office, no one complains about it.”

2. Work, Eat and Live Together

In this principle, Google emphasized the importance of employee integration as opposed to employee segregation. Let’s take a look at this example.

John’s new task as a manager is to develop new products for their IT Company. Though a very able leader, John lacks the technical skills to make the product better. He needs help in understanding data, analyzing trends and marketing.

If you are John, can you work effectively if your engineer is in the other building and your marketing specialist is in another branch? I don’t think so.

To work effectively, John (like your company’s employees) should work and live together with his engineer, marketing specialist and other teammates. You get my point.

3. Messiness is a Good Thing

For Googlers, messiness is a virtue. It is the epitome of a busy and highly stimulated workforce, a by-product of innovation and self-expression.

Eric also pointed out, however, that while offices can be messy, the company should not deprive its employees with what they need to complete the job.

Instead of investing on Aeron chairs, he urged managers to invest on stuffs that matters most.

4. Bezos Two-Pizza Rule

How big is a team? According to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, a team should be small enough to be fed by two pizzas. Anything bigger than that is a catastrophe (at least for startups).

Eric pointed out in his book that smaller teams are more efficient than big ones. Of course, as your company get bigger, you will soon need bigger groups to maintain every aspect of your business.

But don’t let this stop you from working with smaller teams in your R&D and other critical areas.

5. Organize Your Company around Those Who Excelled by Performance and Passion

The people running your company should be the most passionate. They too should excel in performance.

Organize your company around these people and success won’t be too far away. I really liked this quote from Apple’s Debbie Biondolillo:

“Your title makes you a manager. Your people makes you a leader”

These people whom you should heavily invest on are usually found among your best creatives.

They are the ones who will do what they think is right regardless of being told or not (Remember Jeff and his team?). How about the senior level?

Eric pointed out that at the senior level, at least half of the people involved should be experts in your company’s product and services.

They’re the ones who can drive the company forward (through further developments etc.) and not a bunch of professionals whose expertise lie on sales, legal and finance.

The latter should not dominate the meetings despite the fact that they too, play an important role in your company’s success —- from an organizational standpoint at least.

Until Next Time

Did you learn something from this post? I hope you did. And I hope you’ll strive to apply whatever your see fit.

What we’ve talked about so far are 5 organizational principles that govern Google’s culture.

In the next post, we will talk about other greater principles that made Google’s culture truly one of a kind.

It never gets this exciting! More insights and learning to follow so stay tuned!


Written By

Lenmark Anthony Baltazar

I have been living a life of HR for as long as I can remember. My experiences helped me realize that true happiness comes from being a blessing to the lives of others. I hope my skills and talents will be a blessing to you as well.