Organizational Wellness

Organizational Clan Culture: Definition, Characteristics, Examples, and What to Know

May 15, 2023
Last Updated Jun 1, 2023

The people you truly care about are those you’re bonded to by more than proximity or convenience — you gather together for different, deeper reasons. It could be Sunday spaghetti dinners with family, a murder mystery book club with college roommates, or a frenzied group of soccer fans who gather at the pitch to cheer on their team. A common mission, love for a shared interest, or years of shared experiences glue you together. You’re more than a group — you’re a clan.

A clan culture can also crop up in your workplace when team members develop similar close-knit ties and a sense of camaraderie. While clan culture is just one type of corporate culture, it can be especially helpful for fostering collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and transparent decision-making. Find out more about its characteristics and examples in a corporate setting.

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What is Clan Culture?

Clan culture is a type of company culture in which team members are highly collaborative, committed to the organization's mission, and embrace a more close-knit, family feel. They engage in supportive, open communication and collaboration with each other, with the understanding that their shared goals are more important than individual objectives.

In workplace settings, clan cultures often have specific norms and values that team members abide by in order to be part of the group. While these may vary depending on the organization, they often include a set of core principles like:

  • Being supportive and encouraging of coworkers.
  • Exhibiting mutual trust and respect.
  • Communicating openly and honestly.
  • Collaborating toward collective goals.

Clan culture is one of the four main types of organizational culture. The others are adhocracy culture, market culture, and hierarchy culture. The main benefit of clan culture is that it helps foster a sense of belonging, support, and engagement among employees. Through this, workers can create strong networks with each other, ask for help or feedback, and share critiques and ideas to help push the team toward success.

What Are the Characteristics of Clan Culture?

At a glance, clan workplace culture is defined by its family-like atmosphere and lack of hierarchical decision-making. But there are additional hallmarks characteristics that define this type of work environments, including:

  • Mutual support: Team members actively look for ways to support each other. There's usually no "that's outside of my job description" thinking in a clan culture.
  • Open communication: Employees are encouraged to talk openly and honestly, even when they disagree with someone else’s opinion.
  • Shared values: Everyone on the team works together toward shared goals.
  • Commitment: Team members are committed to the team and its goals, not just their own.
  • Transparency: Everyone on the team is part of the decision-making process and has access to information.
  • Partnership: Everyone works together as partners instead of as competitors. The group comes to a collective decision on key issues, welcoming input from everyone, regardless of position.
  • Flexibility: Employees are encouraged to take risks and try new approaches.

Examples of Clan Culture in the Workplace

Clan culture can exist in companies of all sizes, but it might look different the larger an organization gets. In smaller companies, it may be easier for team members to form close ties because they work together on initiatives, get to know each other personally, and share in the company values and mission.

In larger companies, such as multinational tech companies, having a family-like atmosphere is more difficult to achieve, but a collaborative culture is still very possible to achieve. Many large companies began as startups and aren’t strangers to risk-taking or adaptability. 

Here are some examples of well-known organizations that have successfully implemented clan culture:

  • Google: Google has long been known for its unique work culture, and its clan culture is no exception. The company encourages open dialogue, flexibility, and freedom among its employees, so that they're empowered to come up with creative solutions. Employees are also committed to the company's shared values and buy into a clear purpose in their work.
  • Airbnb: The mission-driven culture of Airbnb has attracted a team of passionate employees who are all devoted to the organization’s vision of "being a host." Founder Brian Chesky practices an open management style, and the company also values information sharing and employee ownership.
  • Zappos: One of Zappos' core values is "build a positive team and family spirit" — a perfect encapsulation of clan culture. They've built their company around community, positivity, and trust, and given employees the agency to make their own decisions, believing it leads to better customer outcomes as well.

Pros and Cons of Clan Culture

Clan culture can be a great tool to help foster teamwork, communication, and trust. However, there are some potential downsides as well.

What Are the Benefits?

The advantages of clan culture include:

  • Strong relationships: Clan cultures foster strong ties between coworkers, allowing them to feel comfortable talking openly and trusting each other. This can spark successful collaboration and even make your workplace more productive — Gallup research highlights that employees who have found a best friend at work are more likely to be engaged, take risks, and rate their performance highly.
  • Effective communication: Clan cultures often break down communication silos between departments and levels. Since everyone is encouraged to participate in the decision-making process, teams can discuss ideas and share information to increase effectiveness.
  • Boosted innovation: Team members can take risks and experiment with new approaches since they know that their fellow coworkers have their backs. Ideas aren't just coming from a few sources — everyone is invited to the table, leading to more creativity and often more effective solutions and experiences for customers.
  • Increased employee engagement: Thanks to closer relationships, autonomy, and flexibility, team members might feel more engaged in their work and committed to the organization's mission.

What Are the Drawbacks?

Like everything, clan cultures can also have some drawbacks. When building your organization’s culture, here's what you need to watch for:

  • Groupthink: When everyone is too close-knit or has similar opinions, it can lead to groupthink. This is when people are too focused on “fitting in” with the group to go against the grain and challenge ideas. Sometimes, this can lead to an insular environment that feels unwelcoming to outsiders or new employees — or anyone challenging the status quo.
  • Unclear expectations: A lack of structure or hierarchy can sometimes lead to confusion over who's responsible for what. You're probably familiar with the phrase "too many cooks in the kitchen." That can be a concern in a clan culture, because multiple employees will be involved on projects without clearly defined roles, making it harder for things to get accomplished.
  • Lack of decision-making authority: Allowing everyone to have a say in decisions can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it's great for brainstorming and getting multiple perspectives — on the other hand, if there isn't someone who has decision-making authority, you could find yourself stuck in an endless loop of feedback without taking any actionable steps.

Creating a Clan Culture by Taking Care of Your Employees

Fostering a clan culture in your organization starts with leading by example. When your leadership’s actions align with this ethos, it sets your staff’s expectations for how to act in the workplace and what they will in turn expect from their co-workers.

Actions your leadership can take include soliciting employee feedback, to encourage collaboration and transparency, and evaluating new project proposals based alignment with your company’s values to encourage adoption of shared principals. 

wellbeing program is a great way to make an institutional commitment to many tenants of clan culture. They enable your organization to be supportive of employees and help them achieve their goals. And adopting a customizable wellness program — one that lets employees select from a suite of services like nutrition classes, gym subscriptions, mindfulness meditations — empowers employees to make their own health choices. This shows your company trusts its staff’s decision making abilities and values flexibility. 

If you’d like to foster a healthy culture, speak with a Wellhub wellbeing specialist today! Our flexible, international network of wellbeing activities and apps can help your employees feel their best.




Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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