Team Culture Eats Strategy (and Expertise and Resources and…) for Breakfast
Create a Team Culture to Get Greater Outcomes
There is evidence that a strong, positive company culture creates performance and financial value for organizations.1234 Culture is also tagged to be a competitive advantage because it is so difficult to copy. There aren’t many who argue the value of culture on performance and engagement. But, there are many different opinions and perspectives on the definition of culture, the role it plays and how to create a culture that works. I recently found a statement regarding the role of culture that for me, captures the essence of why it is important to pursue culture.
“At its core, the role of culture is to reinforce a sense of belonging, a shared commitment among colleagues about how they solve problems, share information, serve customers, and deliver experiences.”1
I love this definition because it clearly ties the impact on relationships between colleagues (sense of belonging, shared commitment) to the work that gets done (solve problems, share information, serve customers, deliver experiences).
Most research on culture has focused on organizations, but I cannot stop thinking about the value of culture to a TEAM (within an organization). Surely, a strong TEAM culture will also lead to better performance, more innovation, and more engaged team members.
Company Culture in Action
I saw company culture in action this week. I personally witnessed (and experienced) the impact of a positive company culture during a company-wide meeting. I had the opportunity to facilitate a session on how to effectively manage different perspectives and points of view in the workplace. Even the fact that this company was committed to work on such a skill is a testament to their culture. It was clear to me the leaders of this company are 100% committed to continuously build skills across the organization that get the best thinking on the table and, in turn, create the best solutions for their clients.
Here is what I saw that provided evidence of their culture. Note – the entire company was in attendance, including every senior leader. During our 3½ hour session with 140+ participants, people were not afraid to voice disagreement. They were not afraid to ask tough, sensitive questions about the topic of conflict. They were not afraid to admit they experience angst at work when disagreements are not handled well. They were not afraid to publicly take personal accountability for behavior changes that could make a difference. Based on how this group interacted in our brief encounter, I can only imagine the quality of their solutions they generate for their clients.
I walked away totally energized after a morning of conversation and could not stop thinking about the role of a strong company culture in creating that experience.
And, of course, because I am focused on teams and team leaders, my next thought was how to bring that same value of culture to any team.
You Don’t Have to be a Company to Get Value from Culture
The same elements of culture that create value for corporations can create value for teams:
- A clear, shared vision for why we are doing the work we are doing
- Alignment on the top priorities that will help us achieve our goals
- Clear communication practices both inside and outside the boundaries of the team
- A process for decision-making that ensures that voices are heard
- A commitment to pursue different opinions and perspectives
- Collegial relationships that reflect unconditional support for the efforts of others, shared accountability, mutual respect, and a foundation of trust
A Process for Defining Team Culture
As a team leader, you can facilitate the process of defining the culture you want on the team. I have worked with leadership teams, product development teams, sales teams, and research and development teams to support their efforts at creating a team culture that drives performance. It’s a simple process to follow, but it’s a difficult change to pursue.
Here are five steps you can follow to jump-start the process. Don’t over-complicate it. Don’t make it too academic. It’s the small stuff that creates the big gains.
- Give all team members a voice in defining and shaping the team’s culture.
If it is important that all team members contribute to the success of the team’s work, then it behooves you to involve all team members in defining the culture that will create the most benefit for the whole team. Make sure to genuinely pursue the input and opinions of all team members.
- Make it concrete, behavioral, observable.
Culture can be a very fuzzy topic, but to get the value it has to be something team members can see. As you generate ideas of the type of culture you want to have as a team, define exactly what it looks like (and what it doesn’t look like) in action. Identify behaviors that team members and others will observe when the culture is exhibited. Focus on changing behaviors and mindset shifts will follow.
- Focus on the critical few.
The more commitments you make, the harder it will be to follow-through. And, once momentum is lost, the effort will deteriorate and the team will be discouraged. As you generate behavioral commitments to one another, take the time to prioritize the commitments in terms of impact. Keep the list manageable for all team members. Most of the time, a solid list of 5-7 behavioral commitments is sufficient to generate a positive cultural shift.
- Gain total commitment.
Again, culture takes commitment from all team members. One team member can destroy the culture. As you facilitate through the process of defining, ensure that all team members are in full agreement with the commitments. Otherwise, you are headed for a change effort that fizzles before it starts. Require a public show of commitment by each team member – verbal acknowledgement or a thumbs-up.
- Hold each other accountable.
Finally, it is great to work as a team to define the culture. It is energizing to generate, as a group, behavioral commitments that will create a great place to work. But, the list is nothing if the team does not explicitly address how you will hold each other accountable. There are bound to be slip-ups. How will these be handled? There are bound to be stressful situations where the commitments are broken. How will these be addressed? This has to be shared across the team, not just team leaders. Everyone plays a role in protecting the culture.
When was the last time you paid specific attention to the culture of your team?
What actions did you take and what impact did you see?
1Braun, Eduardo (Winter 2016), Multiplying Your Results with Culture, Leader to Leader, pp. 6-10.
3Katzenbach, John, Oelschlegel, Carolin and James Thomas: https://www.strategy-business.com/article/10-Principles-of-Organizational-Culture?gko=71d2f
4Kotter, John P. and James L. Heskett (2011) Corporate Culture and Performance
5Taylor, Bill (June 2017), 5 Questions to Ask About Corporate Culture to Get Beyond the Usual Meaningless Blather, HBR Blog