The Founder’s Guide to Creating a Culture of Connection

Team Members

As a founder, you’re “founding” many things. Perhaps you’re founding an organization that will one day become your lasting legacy. Perhaps you’re founding a company you hope will create generational wealth to free your children and your children’s children from the fiscal struggles that plagued your life. You may be founding a home where you can showcase your talents and your artistry to the world. Maybe you’re founding some or all of these things, or perhaps it’s something entirely different.

But you’re also founding something more, something specific and remarkably important. You’re founding a culture. A culture is a set of norms, often unspoken, that inform how people relate to each other.

For most of humanity’s two hundred thousand years on this planet, humans lived in a culture we might call a “village culture”, a culture where people learned that true security rested in our relationships with one another.

Over the past twenty thousand years, our village cultures gradually gave way to a marketplace culture that tells people security is no longer in each other’s arms, but rather in the individual wealth we create for ourselves. As a result, today’s culture tends to idealize the pursuit of wealth at the expense of genuine relationships.

As we spend increasingly more of our time at work, founders are building subcultures within the larger consumer culture. Some of the important questions around this are: What sort of subculture are you, as a founder, building? What subculture are you building for yourself and the people around you? In your subculture, how will you balance the greater culture’s insistence on fiscal wealth with a heartfelt desire for relational wealth?

Founding Culture

These very questions intrigued me, when, in the fall of 2013, I began to transform my own individual private therapy practice into a group practice that would grow over the next seven years to include over two hundred practitioners and fifty support staff. 

I started out as an engineer, going so far as to earn a doctorate degree in the field and, a few years later, tenure as an engineering professor at Colorado State University. But my interest lay in people over publishing, and in people over profit, so I traded in my engineering career for graduate degrees in counseling psychology, plopped an ad in the Yellow Pages, and off I went into private practice.

After ten years, when I found myself missing the collegiality I had enjoyed as a professor, I committed to grow my individual practice into a group practice.

As with many founders, I faced the challenges of building a fiscally viable organization from the ground up without the benefits of outside capital. After finding a mentor, I overcame my early financial hurdles, but quickly realized a higher hurdle lay ahead.

As a therapist, I knew what mattered most to people was the quality of the relationships surrounding them… Yes, money mattered. It would always matter. But it could never be the glue that bound my organization together, because somewhere out there, someone would always offer the promise of more money. It had to be the culture, a culture of connection, that would weave my people together.

The culture I sought started with myself, interrupting my day to answer emails, take phone calls, and meet with my employees in person, then reflecting in the evenings on the best ways to take their concerns to heart. This is how I adapted the vision of my business to align with the needs and hearts of his employees and my community. My business became a shared vision that grew larger than anything I could have imagined.

It would take a village to bring this emerging collective vision to life. Soon, a leadership team emerged from within, a group of hand-picked clinicians committed to creating structural support, fiscal stability, and, above all else, the relational connectivity that would bind the organization together.

A Culture of Connection

On February 29, 2020, seven years after it had begun, my organization was acquired by LifeStance Health, a now publicly traded company employing over five thousand therapists. After honoring my agreement to stay on for two years post-acquisition, I left to research and write about culture. My work focuses on balancing the tenets of our ancestral village culture with those of our modern consumer culture, in the workplace and in the greater world.

Many organizations aspire to construct cultures of connection, espousing slogans such as, “We’re people first, profit later”, but most fall short. That’s either because they lack a truly inspired founder who can breathe this culture to life, or their founder, despite the best of intentions, simply doesn’t know the how-to’s.

I discovered that the key to establishing a culture of connection lies in the art of slowing down and knowing how to make room for relational interruption. In learning these art forms, we prevent making the profitability of work more important than the people who will ultimately make the work profitable. 

Here’s a quick how-to…

To arrive at a culture of connection, you, as a founder, slow down when you enter into relationships with the people around you. This decision to slow down is consistent with the research that shows how hurrying together actually disrupts social capital, whereas slowing down promotes it. This research has repeatedly shown that when time spent together is rushed and focused on getting things done quickly, more time together is negatively correlated with building strong relationships.

On the other hand, this same research demonstrates that taking the time to talk in-depth, with a willingness to be genuine and vulnerable, leads to the formation of lasting connections. Additionally, slowing down to make time to authentically catch up, to joke around and play together, to communicate affectionately, and to engage in simple shared activities, all strengthen the bonds that connect us to one another.

But this isn’t easy work, especially when you, as a founder, live in a world filled with fiscal and relational pressures and each act of slowing down might appear to interrupt your work life. Each act of deceleration can seem like a rude interruption from the felt need to rush back to work. But this willingness to be interrupted turns out to be grace…

Only when we let these interruptions in can the remarkable that emerges from working hand-in-hand become possible. Because it’s only in slowing down that we take the time to bring understanding and compassion to our workplace. It’s only in slowing down that we gain insight from our otherwise isolated employees. It’s only in slowing down that we ready ourselves for our great work, the work of building a relationally rich organization for the benefit of all.

Saving Each Other, Saving the World

Those founders who build this inclusive culture of belonging are also gifting the world in two remarkable ways.

First, they’re innately supporting the mental health of the people around them in profound ways because nothing contributes more to mental health than the presence of meaningful relationships and a culture that empowers them.

Second, by balancing the fiscal security demanded by today’s consumer culture with the relational security at the heart of our shared humanity, they’re helping transform the current culture. These founders are bringing something essential back to life: They’re restoring essential elements of our ancestral village life, returning us to a life where people once again find safety in each other’s arms.

About the Author

Carl Nassar
Dr. Carl Nassar

Carl Nassar is a twenty-five-year veteran in the fields of psychology and clinical counseling, a Certified International Integrative Psychotherapy Trainer and Supervisor (CIIPTS), a Certified Integrative Psychotherapist (CIP), and a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). His work with individuals, couples & families frees them from the constraints of traumas, limiting mindsets, and societal worldviews that hinder their mental and emotional well-being and restrict their understanding of themselves and the world around them.

Founder Reports is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to