As a startup, my company (and my team) have had our ups and downs in more ways than I can count. From the basement to the urban chic office, from college interns to young professionals, we’ve all grown; myself included. Because we’ve been on this road together for the past few years, our culture has evolved as well. This has been one turbulent journey: the Red Branch Media culture is unique. It’s intense, but it’s the heart of the company.

Possibly one of the best things I have done to grow my team is our weekly “Eatin’ Meetin’.” It started as a reward for a great week, but I quickly found out it had benefits outside of sharing a good cabernet.

Learn From Weekly Successes and Failures

Sometimes we have great weeks and sometimes we have horrible ones, but we always take the chance to learn from our own (and our coworkers’) mistakes. I’m in the business of learning, and as a leader, I’m constantly learning from other thought leaders in the field and even from my team.

This is our chance to talk about what we’ve accomplished throughout the week. It’s where I say “great job” or “do it this way next time,” and it’s where my employees congratulate each other on a job well done. In doing so, they not only get a better insight into the work of other departments, but they also glean thought-provoking methods they wouldn’t have otherwise tried. Not to mention, I get insights into the strengths and weaknesses of each Brancher (a nickname for the team at Red Branch Media). As KT Bernhagen, co-founder and vice president of Percoa, Inc., writes: “Just be patient. As you learn how your team works best, and as they learn your expectations, things will get easier.”

It has been a difficult, yet necessary, task for myself.

Make It More Than Just a Recap

Career publication The Ladders suggests leaders keep meetings to 30 minutes or fewer, and we adhere to that — mostly. After we’ve spent the first 30 minutes or more covering the best and worst of the past five days, we chat. If there is one thing I have learned from my (chatterbox) team, it’s that employees need this outlet. On Monday, we hit the ground running and typically don’t stop until 3:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon. Eatin’ Meetin’ has become our time to unwind and bond with teammates.

Walk the Line

Even during Eatin’ Meetin’, I have to remember that I am my team’s leader — I am not their friend, nor am I their mother. It’s an important time to bond with my employees and for them to bond with each other, but there are boundaries I can’t cross as a leader. Michael Holland explains: “Truly effective, wise leaders have learned that the tough decisions and conversations are best handled from an objective vantage point. A leader who is biased in decision-making or in disciplinary action over concern for how he will be perceived will make weak decisions. Weak decisions breed low respect from employees.”

Our weekly Eatin’ Meetin’ walks that line successfully. It has taken a couple of years to find that balance, but after trial and error, I’ve finally found the mixture of leader and friend that fits the Red Branch Media culture. They might get wine, cheese and crackers on Friday afternoons, but at the end of the workweek my team still respects me as a leader.

The weekly get-together is ingrained in our culture. It’s a chance for us to learn from each other, for me to give some leadership insights and for my employees to connect with each other on a professional (and personal) level. However, with every small team, it’s important to walk the very fine line between leader or mentor and friend. With Eatin’ Meetin’, my team has grown to respect me, my knowledge and my decisions. They trust me as a leader. What have you done to create a culture that’s distinctively yours?