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Building Biotech Culture: Wisdom from Adam Thomas, CPO at Synlogic

What makes a biotech company more than just lab coats and science? Imagine, if you will, a movie set. Each actor plays their part to perfection, but without the right crew, set, director, marketing, and so much more, the movie will flop. That's exactly how building biotech culture works.

The essence of purposefully building biotech culture is akin to assembling a blockbuster movie like Star Wars - it takes vision, teamwork, and a great director. It requires leaders who don't just bark orders but understand their team's pulse; they listen actively as much as they speak.

A thriving work environment isn't built overnight or by accident. But when achieved... ah! The productivity soars sky-high with engaged employees doing great work!

We recently sat down with Adam Thomas, Chief People Officer at Synlogic, to learn how they foster a dynamic community.

Table Of Contents:

  • Building a Robust Biotech Culture

    • The Role of Leadership in Shaping Company Culture

    • Case Study: Synlogic's Approach to Building Community

      • Promoting Job Satisfaction & Employee Engagement

  • Strategies for Cultivating Community in Biotech Companies

    • Promoting Job Satisfaction and Employee Engagement

    • Encouraging Collaboration and Open Communication

  • Adapting to New Work Models in the Biotech Industry

    • The Shift Towards Remote and Hybrid Work Models

    • Achieving Return On Investment (ROI) Through Remote Working

    • Nurturing Company Culture In Virtual Spaces

  • The Role of HR and Hiring Process in Building Biotech Culture

    • The Importance of Hiring for Cultural Add

    • Nurturing Your Company Culture Through HR Policies

  • Conclusion

Building a Robust Biotech Culture

Fostering a strong company culture is vital for any organization, but it holds special significance in the world of biotechnology. At Synlogic, under the guidance of People Leader Adam Thomas, they've realized that building a biotech culture goes beyond creating an environment conducive to innovation.

The Role of Leadership in Shaping Company Culture

A successful company often mirrors its leadership team's values and vision. In this context, leaders are more than decision-makers; they're architects who shape the work culture. They set benchmarks for scientific discovery, ethical behavior, and mutual respect among employees.

Inspiring leaders like Adam Thomas don't just build cultures—they create communities within their organizations where everyone feels valued. They understand that an engaged workforce fuels success in life sciences and health policy endeavors alike.

Case Study: Synlogic's Approach to Building Community

We've worked with many companies over the years, and Synlogic stands out as a biotechnology company that has built a thriving community through mindful practices directed toward employee engagement and satisfaction. This approach emphasizes individual accomplishments and collective victories—embodying true teamwork spirit.

Their fun and inclusive work environment makes everyone—from scientists at benchtops to their dynamic CEO, Aoife Brennan—feel part of something bigger than themselves.

One thing that really stands out is their cooky and playful approach to office decor. Each conference room is named for a planet in the Star Wars universe, and they have movie memorabilia (like stormtrooper helmets) decorating the office. It brings a fresh and fanciful vibe to the office and is a great icebreaker for new people visiting or interviewing.

Additionally, Synlogic invites patients to come in and share their stories, which is a powerful reminder of the work's purpose. These interactions with patients help to ground the team and remind them why they are doing what they are doing. It adds a layer of meaning and urgency to their work, reinforcing the company's mission to treat diseases and improve lives.

Adam believes these patient interactions are incredibly motivating and help foster a sense of community and purpose among the employees. It serves as a tangible connection to their work's impact on individual lives.

Synlogic’s methods could inspire other companies looking to foster similar environments where great ideas can flourish into transformative solutions—the essence of what makes biotechs successful.

Takeaway: Building a powerful biotech culture means more than just fostering innovation. It's about leaders shaping an environment of respect, ethical behavior, and mutual appreciation. Companies like Synlogic thrive because they create communities where everyone feels valued - from scientists to strategists. They emphasize teamwork spirit and individual achievements equally, which leads to high employee engagement and satisfaction.

Strategies for Cultivating Community in Biotech Companies

A strong community spirit can have a profound impact on biotech companies. It goes beyond simply boosting employee engagement or fostering a sense of camaraderie in the workplace; it has deeper implications.

Promoting Job Satisfaction and Employee Engagement

Preventing turnover and promoting employee engagement often comes down to professional development and job satisfaction in the biotech industry.

Adam emphasizes that Synlogic is committed to the development of its employees. The company invests in coaching, training, and other developmental programs. They partner with organizations like the Commonwealth Corporation for training grants and work with coaching companies to aid in employee development.

But satisfaction and engagement cannot be addressed by professional development alone; it's also crucial to notice and celebrate achievements—no matter how big or small. This way, workers feel valued for their hard work, which lifts team spirit.

Synlogic has implemented several initiatives to acknowledge and celebrate employee accomplishments, but one particularly fun program is its "STAR aWARds."

These awards are given to individuals who embody the company's core values. What sets this recognition apart is that it comes not only from upper management but also from colleagues who can nominate each other. The Star Awards are presented during a company celebration, where recipients receive a unique trophy inspired by Star Wars and other tokens of appreciation.

Encouraging Collaboration and Open Communication

Fostering collaboration starts with promoting open communication within the organization. A culture of openness leads to increased trust among employees, making collaboration easier.

You also need clear lines of communication from leadership down to all levels of staff members—this transparency aids in maintaining morale during challenging times while building resilience within the workforce as well. But it's not easy to do and difficult to do well. This is usually an ongoing and iterative challenge; no two employees will perceive communication similarly.

In terms of practical application, consider adopting digital tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams, which facilitate easy interaction between teams regardless if they are on-site or working remotely. However, setting boundaries to allow free communication without notification overwhelm is essential.

Adapting to New Work Models in the Biotech Industry

Like many others, the biotech industry has faced a significant shift towards remote and hybrid work models due to the global pandemic. The transition wasn't easy for everyone. But it opened up new possibilities that can influence how we approach our work moving forward.

The Shift Towards Remote and Hybrid Work Models

Given the nature of lab-based research, companies within the life sciences industry, including those in biotechnology, had traditionally operated using an onsite model. Yet, with health policies enforcing social distancing measures during the COVID-19 outbreak, this scenario was forced to change quickly.

Synlogic adapted to the challenges posed by the pandemic by implementing a hybrid work environment. The company recognized that different roles have different requirements; some jobs must be done in the lab, while others can be performed remotely. To accommodate this, they adopted a flexible approach that allows employees to work both on-site and remotely, depending on their roles and tasks.

Synlogic also implemented team-based work schedules to minimize the number of people in the office at any given time. This was particularly important for roles that required lab work. Their teams, playfully named R2-D2 and C-3PO, were scheduled to come in on specific days to maintain social distancing while still allowing for effective collaboration.

Adam mentions that the hybrid model has been well-received and that it has even improved productivity in some areas. He believes that the flexibility offered by the hybrid model will likely continue post-pandemic, as it has proven effective for both the company and its employees.

Achieving Return On Investment (ROI) Through Remote Working

Nobody could have predicted that such drastic changes would occur overnight, and nobody had a manual on how to navigate them effectively. However, companies that embraced this change early on reaped benefits not only in terms of cost savings but also in increased productivity levels among employees who enjoyed more flexibility with their schedules.

Now we are witnessing companies being able to plan for hybrid work in future workspaces by opting for smaller leases and creating shared workspaces for hybrid employees to utilize when they come into the office. This is undeniably impacting the financial aspect, allowing for some cost-cutting measures specifically related to real estate.

Nurturing Company Culture In Virtual Spaces

Fostering company culture virtually may seem challenging at first glance, as holiday traditions & parenting discussions often form integral parts of the water cooler conversations that build camaraderie amongst employees. Many biotech firms have found inventive approaches to keep their staff connected and preserve a strong corporate culture.

Biotechnology leaders are leveraging digital tools for everything from team meetings to casual chats, creating opportunities for interaction beyond just work discussions. This shows that while the medium has changed, building a robust biotech culture is still achievable, even in remote settings.

However, certain things are harder to recreate, such as celebrating a work anniversary with a cake or a communal meal. Adam explains that they still have these celebrations, but sometimes remote workers may miss out. To address this issue, they organize periodic "all hands" days where everyone comes together once a month or every quarter for important face-to-face interactions.

Key Takeaway: Adjusting to fresh work styles in biotech is a challenge, yet it's packed with thrilling prospects. Firms are creatively applying remote and hybrid setups, revamping project management frameworks, and leveraging technology for solid communication. A surprise benefit? Saving bucks and boosting productivity. But remember - culture matters. Even in a virtual setup, we can cultivate it.

The Role of HR and Hiring Process in Building Biotech Culture

Building a robust biotech culture starts with the hiring process. Here, the foundation is laid for a vibrant, engaged workforce.

The role of Talent Acquisition specialized in life sciences, becomes critical. The talent team needs to find candidates who not only have the skills, but also align with your company’s mission and values.

The Importance of Hiring for Cultural Add

Hiring for cultural doesn't mean looking for clones. Instead, it means seeking individuals who can add to and enhance your existing workplace environment.

Candidates must share core values that define how work gets done within your organization - whether that's innovation, teamwork, or patient focus.

In doing so, you help build resilience into your company culture – ensuring it remains strong as new hires come on board. This is especially vital given how fast-paced change can be within biotechnology companies, especially at early stages when the workforce might double in size year-over-year.

Hiring practices prioritizing cultural addition ensure continuity and embrace diversity, resulting in a wealth of fresh ideas and perspectives. When we talk about diversity in hiring, it's not just about bringing in individuals from underrepresented groups. The true value lies in cultivating a workforce with diverse worldviews, perspectives, lived experiences, and educational backgrounds – all of which contribute to a more intelligent and resourceful team.

Imagine if everyone on your team graduated from Harvard. While having a group of highly intelligent Harvard grads may seem appealing, you might encounter challenges where the perspective of someone who didn't attend Harvard is needed to find a novel solution.

Nurturing Your Company Culture Through HR Policies

Creating a positive culture goes beyond hiring the right people; we must also retain them. This is why Human Resources plays a crucial role that extends beyond recruitment processes.

  • Your HR team has a significant part to play in fostering an environment where employees feel valued; they're integral players in building community among teams at all levels inside these organizations.

  • To do this effectively requires proactive engagement with employees – providing support, facilitating development opportunities, and addressing concerns.

  • Creating a culture where HR policies align with the company's mission, vision, and values is an ongoing task but one that reaps long-term benefits in terms of employee satisfaction, productivity, and, ultimately, success for your biotech.

Key Takeaway: Creating a powerful biotech culture isn't just about hiring the right people. It's also about finding those who resonate with your mission and values, enriching what you've already built. Your Talent team is key here - they're not just recruiters but community builders, too. They make sure everyone feels valued and included in your company's story.


Creating a biotech culture that fuels innovation takes the right leadership, community, and engagement.

The role of leaders in building biotech culture cannot be overstated. Like movie directors, they need to have a vision, champion the mission, and create a world where everyone thrives.

Cultivating community within your organization boosts job satisfaction and employee engagement. This promotes the collaboration and open communication that is vital for growth and innovation.

Adapting to new work models, such as remote or hybrid setups, is crucial in our evolving world. Meanwhile, HR policies should align with building this culture too by hiring those who add knowledge and depth.


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