Communication!  Teamwork! Trust! Support!

When I first started working with teams, these are the words people would shout when I asked what they learned from an experiential activity.  Unless prompted, they would let it go at that. As leaders, we sometimes do the same thing when talking about or organizational, departmental or team culture. “I want a team that trusts each other and holds one another accountable.”  Unless we define what that actually means and what it looks like, we will have no chance of actually achieving it.

What Do You Want Your Team Culture to Be?

Often, leaders will say they want a “good” or “positive” team culture.  That’s an okay place to start, but what norms and behaviors do you want to see day in and day out?  Here are some questions to think about as you determine the culture you want to build.

  • Can I decide on what the culture of this team should be on my own?  If not, who else needs to be involved?
  • What are the core values I want to see demonstrated by this team?
  • What specific behaviors will demonstrate the culture I want to achieve?
  • What do I want our workspace to feel like for team members and visitors?
  • How do I want people–team members, customers, colleagues–treated?
  • How do I want people who observe our team to describe it?
  • What processes are important to us?
  • What outcomes are important to us?

These questions may lead to others along with important answers.  In general, I encourage leaders to envision the bottom line items that matter to them and then engage the team in developing the culture.  Sometimes though, leaders or leadership teams need to make cultural decisions and implement the plan to get the team there.

How Do I Achieve The Team Culture I Want?

Once you’ve decided on the attributes you want to see in your culture, it is time to take action.  Here are some questions to guide you on creating an action plan.

  • How close to the desired culture are we?
  • Are the current team members the right people to create the culture I am striving for?
  • Who do I need to get on board with these changes to bring the team along?
  • What current policies and norms need to be eliminated, revised or reemphasized?
  • What is an honest timeline for addressing the culture and seeing the changes I want to see?
  • How will I communicate the changes in the culture I want to see?
  • How will I reinforce positive behavior?
  • How will I address unaligned behavior?
  • How will I measure changes in team culture?

Stick With The Plan

Unless you are willing to make significant personnel changes, developing a team culture takes time.  It is time well spent, but I sometimes hear from leaders who try one thing and want to see immediate change.  It doesn’t work that way.  You will need to spend significant and consistent time to develop the team culture you want.  Make it a continued priority, not just something you think about when something goes wrong.  Reward actions and efforts that support the culture you want to build and address behavior immediately that works against your efforts.  It will pay off in the long run.

Jerritt Johnston is the Owner of True North Consultants, which promotes organizational, individual and team growth through challenging, fun and relevant activities and processes.  True North is an Authorized Partner for Everything DiSC®and The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™.