The A to Z Guide to Culture Decks

The A to Z Guide to Culture Decks

New technologies spread faster than ever before. Consumer expectations leap from one category to another at ever-quicker speeds. And as more industries become digitized, the barrier to entry for competition falls. In this era, culture is your company's only truly sustainable competitive advantage. No one can steal it or copy it, because culture is the sum total of your individual behaviors, values, attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions. Moreover, employees consistently cite culture as one of their prime reasons to join and stay with a company. In short, culture is the most effective and defensible tool to win with both customers and employees.

As more organizations understand culture as the competitive tool it is, they're openly sharing "culture decks" or employee handbooks to attract like-minded employees and customers. Internally, these documents act as powerful on-boarding tools, helping new employees quickly prepare for the environment they are entering, and encoding behavioral norms into an organization without imposing draconian rules and dogmatic processes.

What's in a culture deck?

Just like companies, no two handbooks or culture decks are alike; they look different, use different formats, and cover different topics. Some are only two pages, others are 120+ slides; some are updated regularly; others are one-time deals. But common features include:

  • A history of the company and its plans for growth
  • A description of their products and/or business model
  • A look into how the company works, especially what sets it apart
  • A set of shared values and what those values demand from employees 

In 2017, NOBL will be hosting Team Design Bootcamps in Austin, London, Berlin, DC, Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto, NYC, Melbourne, Chicago, and Boston to train leaders in the emerging practices of high performing teams. As an output of these sessions, attendees will leave with a Team Handbook (think of it as a mini-culture deck for your team). In preparation for our sessions, our team has compiled and analyzed more than two dozen culture decks, presented in alphabetical order below. We've highlighted our favorite aspects of each deck, but we encourage you to explore on your own. Of course, if you want to learn from the practices in these books and in dozens of organizations beyond these, join us at a Bootcamp.


This handbook has a clever premise: it was written by a new employee, documenting their first 22 days at the company, and functions as half-handbook, half-journal. 

This handbook has a clever premise: it was written by a new employee, documenting their first 22 days at the company, and functions as half-handbook, half-journal. 

Instead of being a prescriptive manual, 360's Culture Book serves as a yearbook, including fun pictures from events of the past year and reflections of what the company's values mean to individuals. The book also serves as a great recruiting tool that supports their designation as the second best workplace in Canada in 2014. 

Instead of being a prescriptive manual, 360's Culture Book serves as a yearbook, including fun pictures from events of the past year and reflections of what the company's values mean to individuals. The book also serves as a great recruiting tool that supports their designation as the second best workplace in Canada in 2014. 

AP's Culture Deck is oriented towards recruiting new team members, with a heavy emphasis on the benefits of working with the company, such as a stimulating working environment, flexible schedules, and continued learning opportunities. In addition, they give clear examples of how their values impact their daily activities, like using values as hiring and promotion criteria.  

AP's Culture Deck is oriented towards recruiting new team members, with a heavy emphasis on the benefits of working with the company, such as a stimulating working environment, flexible schedules, and continued learning opportunities. In addition, they give clear examples of how their values impact their daily activities, like using values as hiring and promotion criteria.  

Big Spaceship's manual is upfront about its purpose: it helps new employees understand how the team makes decisions, not how to access an internal server. There's a heavy emphasis on being a human at work, and they even include a checklist of things newbies can do to integrate into the team faster. We interviewed leadership at Big Spaceship to learn more; get an inside look at how the manual came together here. 

Big Spaceship's manual is upfront about its purpose: it helps new employees understand how the team makes decisions, not how to access an internal server. There's a heavy emphasis on being a human at work, and they even include a checklist of things newbies can do to integrate into the team faster. We interviewed leadership at Big Spaceship to learn more; get an inside look at how the manual came together here

CP+B's Employee Handbook is clear about its expectations for employees: commit to creating only the best advertising, and aid others when they need help. They also address the company's weaknesses, like meeting deadlines, and ask employees to help.

CP+B's Employee Handbook is clear about its expectations for employees: commit to creating only the best advertising, and aid others when they need help. They also address the company's weaknesses, like meeting deadlines, and ask employees to help.

DoSomething's culture book is largely geared towards interns and potential employees, demonstrating how they can make a difference within the company. Several pages are dedicated to employees answering questions like "What's your favorite DS memory?" to "What tatoo would you get?".

DoSomething's culture book is largely geared towards interns and potential employees, demonstrating how they can make a difference within the company. Several pages are dedicated to employees answering questions like "What's your favorite DS memory?" to "What tatoo would you get?".

Disqus spends the first part of its Culture Book explaining its history, the product, and the company's business model. The rest is dedicated to the work itself: how employees work, how to operate within the workspace, and "life," including time off and work-life balance.

Disqus spends the first part of its Culture Book explaining its history, the product, and the company's business model. The rest is dedicated to the work itself: how employees work, how to operate within the workspace, and "life," including time off and work-life balance.

Ok, we couldn't find the whole document, but here are some images from the mysterious Facebook employee handbook, detailing the company's purpose and approach to work. 

Ok, we couldn't find the whole document, but here are some images from the mysterious Facebook employee handbook, detailing the company's purpose and approach to work. 

Fractured Atlas has a site dedicated to how the team works together, and includes a video welcome from the CEO.

Fractured Atlas has a site dedicated to how the team works together, and includes a video welcome from the CEO.

Everyone talks about mission, vision, and values, but GiveForward's Culture Deck explains the connection between the three, and what they look like in practice. They also include a mantra—their "secret sauce"—and include video examples so people can see it in action.

Everyone talks about mission, vision, and values, but GiveForward's Culture Deck explains the connection between the three, and what they look like in practice. They also include a mantra—their "secret sauce"—and include video examples so people can see it in action.

In addition to practical do's and don'ts, home service booking platform Handy provides a discount code for its services directly in its Culture Deck—a clear indication that these decks are powerful marketing tools as well as internal guides.

In addition to practical do's and don'ts, home service booking platform Handy provides a discount code for its services directly in its Culture Deck—a clear indication that these decks are powerful marketing tools as well as internal guides.

As part of its commitment to transparency (and to recruit great people)‚ HubSpot makes its cultural "operating system" available to all. To better attract and screen potential candidates, one section details the characteristics of a "Hubspotty" individual. 

As part of its commitment to transparency (and to recruit great people)‚ HubSpot makes its cultural "operating system" available to all. To better attract and screen potential candidates, one section details the characteristics of a "Hubspotty" individual. 

As befits a strategic innovation shop, IC's culture is always adapting, but their culture guide maps out their values and what they expect their team to do (and what not to do!). 

As befits a strategic innovation shop, IC's culture is always adapting, but their culture guide maps out their values and what they expect their team to do (and what not to do!). 

Memoria Visual uses a narrative approach (specifically, an analogy of a mission to Pluto) to explain its purpose and ways of working.

Memoria Visual uses a narrative approach (specifically, an analogy of a mission to Pluto) to explain its purpose and ways of working.

In addition to an introduction to its company culture, Mindvalley includes a "Code of Awesomeness" that summarizes their 10 most important values.  

In addition to an introduction to its company culture, Mindvalley includes a "Code of Awesomeness" that summarizes their 10 most important values.  

The Motley Fool's Interactive handbook incorporates video (an increasing trend) and additional links so employees can dig deeper into important topics.

The Motley Fool's Interactive handbook incorporates video (an increasing trend) and additional links so employees can dig deeper into important topics.

NASA's handbook is more cut-and-dry as befits a government organization, but still covers important topics like the "Lessons Learned System" and "Engaged Culture." 

NASA's handbook is more cut-and-dry as befits a government organization, but still covers important topics like the "Lessons Learned System" and "Engaged Culture." 

The Netflix Culture Deck was one of the first to be widely shared, and now has well over 14 million views. Despite its simple design, it's gone on to inspire many of the other decks seen here.

The Netflix Culture Deck was one of the first to be widely shared, and now has well over 14 million views. Despite its simple design, it's gone on to inspire many of the other decks seen here.

Nordstrom's Handbook gets right to the point: there's only one rule. This is page two of a two page "document." 

Nordstrom's Handbook gets right to the point: there's only one rule. This is page two of a two page "document." 

Paessler's Culture Deck is minimal, but it makes an effort to explain how they have arrived at each value.

Paessler's Culture Deck is minimal, but it makes an effort to explain how they have arrived at each value.

Possible's Culture Code breaks down its 11 values and gives people clear examples so they understand what those values look like in practice. 

Possible's Culture Code breaks down its 11 values and gives people clear examples so they understand what those values look like in practice. 

Who says an employee handbook has to be a book? Spotify's video (the first of two parts) breaks down their engineering culture and has a handy graphic that can be easily referred to.  

Who says an employee handbook has to be a book? Spotify's video (the first of two parts) breaks down their engineering culture and has a handy graphic that can be easily referred to.  

Thoughbot's handbook is a "living document" that employees can edit in GitHub. It's laid out in a clear, step-by-step manner, from the Design Sprint to Measuring, making it easy for anyone to understand the entire process. We love seeing a company put their culture deck not only online, but in a form that those inside and outside the company can iterate upon.

Thoughbot's handbook is a "living document" that employees can edit in GitHub. It's laid out in a clear, step-by-step manner, from the Design Sprint to Measuring, making it easy for anyone to understand the entire process. We love seeing a company put their culture deck not only online, but in a form that those inside and outside the company can iterate upon.

Trello created a kanban board to capture its policies, making it easier to find the specific policy or topic the reader is interested in.

Trello created a kanban board to capture its policies, making it easier to find the specific policy or topic the reader is interested in.

One of the most comprehensive handbooks available, Valve's explains "the choices you're going to be making and how to think about them." This can be as high-level as their approach to serving clients, to the mundane, like moving a desk. 

One of the most comprehensive handbooks available, Valve's explains "the choices you're going to be making and how to think about them." This can be as high-level as their approach to serving clients, to the mundane, like moving a desk. 

Whiteboard's culture book infuses information about their work practices with their own personal style. It also includes resources like an office map and glossary of commonly used words like "wireframs." 

Whiteboard's culture book infuses information about their work practices with their own personal style. It also includes resources like an office map and glossary of commonly used words like "wireframs." 

Zaarly puts a greater emphasis on internal communication and structure, leaving values for last.

Zaarly puts a greater emphasis on internal communication and structure, leaving values for last.

One of the most famous culture books; it includes contributions from all its team members.

One of the most famous culture books; it includes contributions from all its team members.

ZGM's handbook lays out expectations for how the new employee will interact with the rest of the team and responsibilities to clients.

ZGM's handbook lays out expectations for how the new employee will interact with the rest of the team and responsibilities to clients.

Wait, where's my culture deck?

Does your team or organization have a culture deck that we haven't included here? Do let us know!

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