Team culture is a term in business that gets thrown too loosely. You might see it displayed on a company website or a job description like a badge of honor. However, boasting fabulous team cultures reads as phony to workers whose organizations aren’t actually building them. The hard truth is that most companies do not actively work on their team culture. As a result, this is what prevents them from reaching greatness. In a report on core beliefs and culture, professional services network Deloitte found “only 19% of executives and 15% of employees believe strongly that their culture is widely upheld within their own organizations.”
On the flip side, think about organizations that are intentional about growing their team culture. Companies like Google, Apple, General Motors, and General Electric all have one thing in common. They’re all incredibly successful and drive impact worldwide. A study conducted by Gallup provides some insight into why this is true. Their research team found that when employees feel engaged at work, it can lead to a 202 percent increase in performance.
Yet, building team culture takes intention, dedication, and passion. It also requires specific leadership skills and strategic initiatives that create the conditions for good teams to flourish and thrive. It takes a lot of self-work, mentorship, nurturing, planning, and tweaking, but the payoffs are monumental. Not only are you creating growth, joy, and fulfillment in the lives of others, it isn’t possible to take your company to the next level without investing in your team.
To avoid doing this and instead create successful teams, learn more about team culture, why it matters, and how to grow it below.
What is Team Culture?
Building team culture begins with defining what your team culture is. In general, “culture” is created by shared customs, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs within a particular group of people. For this reason, team culture varies among companies and even individual teams within organizations. In terms of who creates team culture, this depends on the leaders of each group. While they might have some company standards, the person guiding the team is ultimately in charge of building and fostering relationships among individuals.
It’s important to note that “team culture” shouldn’t be viewed as a monolithic term. While a business might have a collective company culture, the many teams within an organization might have their own unique team culture. It takes the collective mass of multiple teams, led by multiple leaders, to uphold a functioning culture within an organization. For instance, there might be a digital marketing team, a customer service team, and an IT team. While these groups’ job is to support the company’s vision, mission, and values, building strong bonds within their own team is equally important. This is because within these groups is where close-knit interpersonal relationships form, which is where team culture develops.
How to Create Team Culture on the Team You’re Leading
There’s a lot of ways leaders on their respective teams can build team culture in a way that positively impacts the lives of employees and the business itself. Overall, the key is growing personal connections, which executives, directors, managers, and team leaders are all responsible for doing. To get a few ideas on how to do this, check out the tips below.
1. Find the Right People for the Right Jobs
Having the right team players is one of the most important parts of building the right culture. This process begins long before the hiring process. First, leaders in charge of building teams must strategize for each individual job and the duties for these positions.
Pre-addressing specific roles to be filled and which person would be best suited to those roles helps leaders build productive, organized teams. Creating job descriptions and responsibilities with real people in mind helps business owners and managers think strategically about the teams they’re building.
When building out individual team member positions, leaders should think about:
- Who would be an ideal fit and why?
- How can the company create a positive work experience for this person?
- What are the motivating factors of this job for the employee?
- Where is there room for flexibility (remote work, salary, time off, benefits, and more)?
- What do growth and development look like for this person?
Getting better insight into the mind of an ideal team member might also include researching personality types. By doing this, business owners and hiring managers take the guesswork out of who they’re hiring and how they might fit into the organization.
Creating a strategy around new team members helps identify the qualities needed for a thriving company. Building these key ideas into a job description also shows potential employees that the business cares about and values the person they select.
2. Love Your People and Take Care of Them
Renowned author and speaker, Simon Sinek, compares leadership to parenting. Like parents, a leader’s responsibility consists of teaching, supporting, correcting, listening, caring for, and developing people. In an interview shared on his YouTube channel, he says being a leader is “a lifestyle and it comes number one with the commitment that I’m responsible for the life of another human being.”
Statistically speaking, 60 percent of those currently in leadership roles are failing at this vital component of building a positive team culture. Research from Randstad USA found, “More than half (59%) feel their companies view profits or revenues as more important than how people are treated.” An additional study from Businessolver® concluded, “93% of people wish their bosses had more [empathy].”
One can conclude this means the majority of employees don’t feel emotionally supported at work. Creating a positive team culture begins at the top. Leadership in the workplace means taking responsibility for ensuring your team members are well cared for.
Combating negative team culture starts here:
- Valuing employees as individuals.
- Creating opportunities for growth and development within the company.
- Connecting with and viewing team members beyond their job titles.
- Helping employees achieve the best version of themselves.
- Encouraging work-life balance.
- Increasing your emotional intelligence.
- Opening lines of communication.
- Inspiring and motivating by speaking to people’s hearts, minds, and spirits.
Like being a parent, leadership is a challenging job requiring consistent education and guidance. Finding a business mentor, having a support network, and taking learning into your own hands are all ways to become equipped to better look after your team.
3. Make Company Purpose the Guiding Force of the Organization
People want purpose-driven work. This factor is central to a company’s team culture and overall success. According to research conducted by PwC, businesses with defined, articulated values make employees feel twice as proud and passionate about their job.
Metrics have a purpose, but they aren’t the purpose. Numbers and projections don’t drive goal achievement—creating a positive impact does. So much so, BetterUp Labs’, “Meaning and Purpose at Work” discovered 9 out of 10 people would give up around $23,000 per year for more purpose-driven work.
With this in mind, every move the business makes needs to loop back to the “why” of the organization. As a leader building positive team culture, tie company objectives and goals to their purpose and value. Doing this will help employees know they’re working toward a collective goal that benefits others.
4. Encourage Innovation
Innovation doesn’t always come from the top, but the top creates the right environment for it to thrive. Employees at innovative companies aren’t afraid of making mistakes because their leaders treat error and failure as learning experiences rather than a cause for termination. This secures a workplace environment of trust and support.
In an article on innovation leaders, Henry Doss writes for Forbes: “Innovation leaders tend to be motivated more by what can happen for the benefit of others and of their organizations, rather than what can directly benefit them . . . the state of constantly being concerned for others’ benefit, for the growth and success and fulfillment of others in your organization, has an almost magical impact on outcomes—yours and everyone else’s.”
In summary, setting the pace for innovation requires servant leadership flowing from the top-down. Whether knowingly or not, business owners and executives deeply influence their workers’ abilities through the words they speak and the actions they take.
5. Change Outdated Policies and Attitudes Around Work
This often means challenging and improving what’s already in existence, including standard work practices. For example: providing work hours dedicated to creativity. It could mean letting employees choose their own team-building projects that add value to the company.
In addition to this, consider things like easing up on dress codes, offering flexible work hours, increasing office mobility, creating comfortable workspaces, and allowing remote work. Some of these may not work for every company. However, keeping an open mind about creating a more modern work environment shows a progressive business culture. Trying out these policies or taking suggestions from employees could help increase retention, productivity levels, and inspire more innovation from within.
6. Teach Leadership
Building team culture in a company includes teaching leadership skills to those on the team. Yet, this is a missing element in many businesses. Lack of leadership development appears evident in research conducted by learning platform Udemy. In their “2018 Employee Experience” report, they found, “60 percent of people thought their managers needed more training.”
Business owners and executives aren’t unaware of how important this is for their companies. The Brandon Hall State of Leadership Development report discovered, “83 percent of organizations surveyed said that targeted development for all leader levels is important or very important,” while only “5 percent have implemented solutions for all levels.”
Speaker and best-selling author, John C. Maxwell, believes developing more strong leaders within an organization is the most valuable thing a business can do. In the introduction of The Leader’s Greatest Return, he says, “There is nothing in this world that gives a greater ROI to a leader than attracting, developing and multiplying leaders.”
Ideas for building a team culture of leaders throughout the company include:
- Launching a mentorship partnering program among senior and junior team members.
- Designating a percentage of work time for leadership studies.
- Starting a leadership book club open to all levels of employees.
- Creating a leadership board at your company.
- Spending an hour per week strategizing and ideating on ways to develop more leaders.
- Allowing people the opportunity to give presentations or talk about what they’re learning.
With these options in mind, it’s clear multiplying leaders doesn’t require a million-dollar leadership development budget. In fact, it’s one of the most low-cost, high-impact investments a business owner can make.
7. Give Feedback
Building team culture requires constructive feedback that is transparent, honest, and demonstrates care from employers. Speaker and author Kim Scott calls this type of feedback “radical candor.” In order to have radical candor, leaders must know each individual on their team on a personal level. They should know their strengths and weaknesses, their goals, what they need in terms of support, how they like to be appreciated—the list goes on. Ultimately what Scott is saying is that in order for feedback to be helpful, a leader must know who they’re talking to and how to adapt themselves to provide effective feedback. This strengthens the team member’s performance and the interpersonal bonds being built among themselves and others at work.
Scott says leaders who cultivate great team cultures stay away from ruinous empathy, which is not providing honest, transparent feedback when it needs to be given. She explains it negatively impacts team cultures and breaks down relationships. Scott writes, “As you probably know, for every piece of subpar work you accept, for every missed deadline you let slip, you begin to feel resentment and then anger. You no longer just think the work is bad: you think the person is bad. This makes it harder to have an even-keeled conversation. You start to avoid talking to the person at all.”
8. Be Open to Feedback Yourself
Giving and receiving feedback is a two-way street, meaning employees should be encouraged to respond constructively to their superiors. When it comes to receiving feedback, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs explains the process in Steve Jobs, the Journey Is the Reward. “Ask for feedback from people with diverse backgrounds. Each one will tell you one useful thing. If you’re at the top of the chain, sometimes people won’t give you honest feedback because they’re afraid. In this case, disguise yourself, or get feedback from other sources,” he provides in his “12 Rules of Success” published within the book.
Business owners and executives might be aware that some employees struggle with approaching them because of their position. Nevertheless, it’s up to leaders to dispel the myth that holding a superior position in an organization translates to less communication with employees. Effective leaders build trust by listening well. If you’re the right person for guiding your team, you are comfortable with transparency and honest feedback as part of team culture. Following up and following through is key to showing you take suggestions and opinions seriously.
9. Recognize and Appreciate Work
Great leaders know the value of employee recognition and appreciation. “Recognize people every chance you get. You should do this both formally and informally . . . Make it your aim to catch people doing something right,” says best-selling leadership and business author Michael Hyatt in a blog on his website.
Regular positive interaction through recognition and appreciation should be a top goal among business owners, executives, and managers. Giving meaningful words and showing gratitude increases the bond between leaders and team members. The SHRM/Globoforce Survey 2015 Employee Recognition Report showed recognition increased employee happiness at work by 86 percent. Vulnerability can be difficult for some, but on a strong team, walls come down. As best-selling author, speaker, and researcher Brené Brown says, true leadership requires vulnerability. As a leader, sharing how much someone’s effort means to you is vital. Above all, it shows your employees that you value them and their work.
Treat Strong Team Culture as a Infinite Goal
Leaders who develop team culture don’t have to advertise it as something they have. It’s apparent to all of those who encounter the business because people love their jobs, love their work, and love their team members. Nevertheless, building a strong team culture isn’t something you develop over the course of a week and then implement. Maintaining it requires constant attention from leaders. With that being said, when business owners and executives create a framework for strong team culture using the processes and methods listed in this article, it becomes second nature.
There’s a difference between just recognizing the value of team culture and actually putting it into practice as an infinite goal for team development. Taking a human-centric leadership approach creates and sustains strong team connections by supporting individuals working together toward a collective, broader company purpose.