by J. Clint Anderson Ph.D., founder and president of J. Clint Anderson Company
Between increased diversity, growing workload, geographic dispersion, and organizational changes, who has time to worry about a corporate culture? Research shows that when people connect well, organizations succeed. So, the real question is: Can you afford not to invest in your team culture?
Ed Schein, author of “Organizational Culture and Leadership“, says it’s time for a new focus on micro cultures and the skill necessary to develop positive team culture. I couldn’t agree more.
We used to assume that people knew how to work together, but today, that’s a risky assumption. A colleague recently recounted a manager’s experience with a team that was not working well. The initial discussion concerned how to get the “wrong” people off the team and the “right“ people on the team. Not surprising, the manager had been through several cycles of “wrong” people. Perhaps the problem was not in hiring, but the team culture the new employee experienced once on board.
I define team culture as that which determines acceptable behavioral patterns in team members’ relationship to one another, work, and environmental influences. A positive culture develops positive relationships, high productivity, and adaptability.
Want to find out where your team’s culture stands? Observe both individual and group behavior to clarify shared beliefs and assumptions. Look for indications that the interpersonal connections are life-giving or if they are life-depleting. While most team cultures evolve randomly, a leader can work to intentionally establish a positive team culture. Here are four steps to help your organization create theirs:
1. Set expectations that create high quality connections.
While leaders commonly set individual expectations, most fail to set group expectations that create high quality interpersonal connections. If you want a positive team culture, you have to know what behaviors define that kind of group experience. Behaviors may include sharing information, asking for feedback, working through disagreements, sharing responsibility and mutually helping one another when needed. Once you identify the behaviors consider what values develop those behaviors. Values such as mutual respect, openness, honesty, mutual support, and concern will, when practiced, create the behaviors described above. You can lay a foundation for a positive team culture by introducing these group values as expectations.
2. Define and model collaborative behavior.
In their book “Freedom, Inc.“, Brain Carney and Isaac Getz describe IDEO founder David Kelly’s principle for decision-making. Before a person can make a decision, that team member must consult with colleagues it will affect and if it will have a negative effect, that person does not follow through. Team members experience collaborative behavior when they adopt this practice. A positive team culture will develop as team members approach individual responsibility in a manner that ensures a positive result for everyone else on the team. As a leader, you model this behavior when you include the team, or individual members in decisions that affect them. In this manner, you can empower people to act as long as the action does not have a negative impact on someone else. Beyond that, when one team member discusses decision options with another team member and both agree to the best solution you are more likely to have a quality decision. This practice limits surprises, and decreases unnecessary conflicts as it strengthens team members’ connection quality.
3. Engage the positive diversity of personalities on the team.
Multitudes of personality assessments fill the market and many companies invest in them. It has long been recognized that personality differences can either improve or hinder a positive team culture. In a 6,000 person study over 15 years, Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson found that personal styles coming together well is a key to great teamwork. Personality diversity can improve team performance, as people understand self and others in a way that leverages complementary strengths and covers individual weaknesses. Alternatively, personality diversity can create conflict, mistrust, and low productivity. Teams that benefit from different personalities work to understand and accept one another. A reality of personality in teamwork is this: the person who drives you the craziest is probably the one you need the most. When it comes to personality and working together, you can also safely assume that individuals are being misunderstood while misunderstanding others. A positive team culture develops as each individual understands and accepts his or her personality as well as the other team members’ personalities.
4. Provide accountability through feedback.
It would be nice if, as a leader, you could call a meeting to set clear expectations, define collaborative behavior, use a personality assessment to ensure everyone understands one another, and be done with it. While you should do these things, unfortunately it is not that simple. If you want to create a positive team culture, you must go beyond information. As a leader, first make sure you model what you expect. Accepting the leadership challenge of modeling the desired behavior initiates a positive team environment while teaching others to adopt new beliefs and practices. Team members’ actions and interactions will not immediately reflect the desired culture. Establish accountability for the new practices by observing individual and group behavior and providing feedback. Your feedback should provide clarity as you interpret behavior in light of expectations. The feedback will guide team members through the desired changes to enjoy the new culture.
A workplace experiencing increased diversity, growing workloads, geographic dispersion, and organizational changes clarifies the reason you should invest time and energy in your team’s culture. You cannot control the external factors that affect the team, but you do have direct influence on how your team responds to those factors as you develop a positive team culture.
J. Clint Anderson, Ph.D. is the founder and president of J. Clint Anderson Company, an Austin, Texas-based company that has been developing leaders and organizations as a trainer, coach, and consultant for more than a decade. He has worked with government, non-profit, and for-profit organizations. He developed and owns the Trimergent Leadership® System, which includes Leading Self, Leading Teams, and Leading Organizations.