Why Company Cultures Still Matter in The Fitness Business

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  • Why Company Cultures Still Matter in The Fitness Business

Four Organizational Culture Types

Did you know that there are four different categories of organizational culture? I didn’t. Some researchers at the University of Michigan figured it out, and I’m glad they did. So, let’s take a look at these four cultures and see how they show up in with the fitness business.

Business schools that develop management theories have been covering the structures of companies for decades. Formal structures have the backing of authority; they are the written tables of organization, policies, and procedures.

The formal structure of your company goes all the way up to the corporate documents and down to the legal filings. Informal structures are trickier to define; their forms are often unspoken and changeable. These structures reflect the natural order of dominance that people establish as they settle into a group.

Identifying Gym Business Cultures

Your organizational culture is the mental model that combines both formal and informal structures. They get transmitted as stories shared in training sessions, meetings, at the diner after work and, these days, on social media.

Culture is the narrative that founders create and advocate, but it is also the whisperings of coworkers, which never make it to the ears of the boss. It’s about the story of your gym and what it means to employees and members.

I think I’ve seen each of these culture types in action in the fitness business. First, it’s important to say that when the experts talk about cultures, they tend to mean that of the employees and management of companies.

The fitness industry has a character all of its own. It’s such a strong people-business that any gym or studio has a culture that is formed as much by the membership as the staff and owners. It makes sense that gym business cultures might have features that fall into recognizable categories here too.

Recognizing Your Culture Type

The four types of organizational cultures as published by Hubspot are as follows:

  • Clan
  • Adhocracy
  • Market
  • Hierarchy

Clan Culture

The small group that’s like a family is a type of culture you might expect in the small backstreet gym. It might specialize in bodybuilding, martial arts, yoga, or some other niche activity where the practitioners are intensely dedicated.

A clan culture is what might emerge if you open a gym and the membership rapidly fills up with acquaintances from your social network, and they all know each other. If you can maintain the connectedness as your health club grows, you can have a team that is inclusive, with all employees involved.

Pros – Clan cultures are tight-knit by nature. The most consistent values are loyalty Clan cultures can pull together to support each other and achieve shared objectives. These can be teams where the wellbeing and enthusiasm of the staff connect with the membership creating a friendly and inspiring environment.

Cons – On the downside, clans can be cliquish, with an in-group that excludes anyone that doesn’t fit the mold. These types of groups can fall victim to groupthink, which is the beginnings of mob behavior unless someone can tell them to knock it off, i.e., you need someone to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

Adhocracy Culture

Adhocracy is a very open and flexible kind of culture. It may seem to lack a single focus, where trainers recruit clients externally and bring them in for classes and coaching.

Adhocracies reflect the matrix organizational structure, where the authority spreads among equals. If you provide the facilities and some general guidelines your people will find the way forward. They will invent new products and services and everyone shares in the benefits.

Pros – These can be very innovative and creative cultures. When you have a group of staff that is highly skilled and who know what they want to achieve, this kind of culture can be unbeatable in the face of disruptive change.

Cons – If your gym business loses its ability to tolerate its differences it can split into factions that fight jealously for resources. If, say, spinning classes prove to be successful, trainers who want to use the same floor space could feel threatened. Without strong leadership, the situation could get out of control, with one side undermining the other.

Market Culture

Market culture is a competitive one. It’s the place where team members and customers are motivated by beating the competition. If you post results and percentages, it motivates members of your market culture to push harder to win.

Pros – If you have a market culture in your gym business it will strive to be the most of competitive gyms in your community. Sometimes, if the gym down the street has good stuff to offer, the only way to win is to power through competitively.

Cons – Sometimes you can take competition too far. If contests don’t align with your business needs, they can be counterproductive. An example is when sales contests lead staff to recruit members who won’t stick around. Another would be when it takes priorities away from serving the needs of the customers first.

Hierarchy Culture

The realms of policies, procedures, management meetings, and far off head offices are familiar to anyone who’s ever worked for a big-box fitness brand. Hierarchies are the traditional structure of large companies and a natural way to spread a business model. The formality of this type of structure tends to reflect in the culture that goes with it.

Titles, respect, and authority emanate from the written policies that document the hierarchy, which makes the associated cultures more rigid and formal than in the other types.

If the balance of structure is right, you can build a global empire. Gold’s Gym and 24 Hour Fitness are examples of what you can achieve, both being brands that have locations around the world.

Pros – In fitness brand is everything. So, you want to be able to control expansion and how franchisees present your image. Hierarchies give you the ability to scale your business up to the global scale.

Cons – Bureaucracy, in a word. Hierarchies can suck the soul out of anything. As layers of management pile up, the lower levels become fearful of taking action. When the priority in the culture becomes deflecting blame and covering backsides, you know the hierarchy has gone too far.


Fagan, Lawrence. Make Networking Part Of Your Fitness Club Value Proposition. May 25, 2018. https://blog.gyminsight.com/5027-make-networking-part-of-your-fitness-club-value-proposition/ (accessed October 31, 2018).

Forsey, Caroline. What Organizational Culture Is & Why It Matters. October 4, 2018. https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/organizational-culture (accessed October 31, 2018).