What is culture?
Culture consists of the shared values, beliefs, systems, and behaviours that dictate how a team interacts, functions, and views its mission. During our recent panel discussions, we agreed: "Team culture can be hard to define, but you know when you're in a bad one."
Building a positive culture goes beyond merely feeling good within a team environment. It is pivotal in enhancing team well-being, promoting productivity, and achieving tangible results. A healthy culture does not arise by accident; it's developed intentionally and looked after through changes.
"What is the biggest killer of culture?" "Lack of safety."
All panellists discussed how a dysfunctional culture can arise from poor communication and a lack of psychological safety.
The shift to remote work, especially after COVID-19, has brought new challenges to maintaining team culture. Concerns about remote working's impact on professional development opportunities are especially pertinent for younger members and females, who may feel less visible or engaged in a virtual environment.
The rapid pace of work and extended hours can be unsustainable, exacerbating feelings of burnout and isolation.
Te ao Māori perspective underscores the need for a welcoming environment for all, including Māori and Pasifika rangatahi in Aotearoa.
Recognising and addressing these challenges head-on is paramount for any team's growth, adaptability, and resilience.
Alignment in team culture
A healthy team culture is one where there's more than just coexistence; there's coherence. This alignment spans from purpose, values, and behaviours to working practices. Without a collective understanding and alignment, the culture might appear aimless.
Key strategies we discussed for nurturing a solid culture were:
• Recruiting individuals based on their values rather than just their skills.
• Emphasising the importance of regular engagement and genuinely listening to team members and the necessity of face-to-face interactions.
• Generosity of listening before speaking and the reciprocal nature of learning and teaching to build understanding and trust.
• Consciously working on building trust. It's not just a bonus to the team; it can supercharge a team's potential or completely undermine its efforts.
Organisational values as the guiding compass
A clear set of organisational values can provide a "true north" for the team, particularly in times of overwhelm or stress, and leaders can build credibility and trust by working to those values.
The discussion of leadership and legacy highlighted the importance of leaders walking the talk - not just espousing the organisation's values but truly living by them and thinking about what kind of culture they would like to be there when they are not.
More than speaking these values is needed; they must guide actions, decisions, and interactions.
Every team member is a culture champion.
Leaders set the overarching shape and direction of the team culture. However, every team member contributes to building and maintaining it. It was mentioned that sometimes your team's biggest team culture champion may not necessarily be a senior member – give those culture champions recognition!
It may sound trite, but there was a call for all team members to be the change you want to see – everyone can role model the behaviours and values that will contribute positively.
For instance, initiatives like introducing focus time, check-ins, stand-ups, or whatever your team calls it can highlight the value of individual contributions and how they can shape the overall team environment.
Leaders can benefit from seeking meaningful feedback from the team and make sure to address water cooler topics before they spiral.
Learning from Te Ao Māori values
The Māori concepts of manaakitanga (ethic of caring), kotahitanga (unity), and whanaungatanga (relationship building) can act as pillars for both stability and direction in a team. For example, the principle of whangangatanga accentuates the importance of understanding and valuing team relationships before approaching the work or implementing significant changes – which can sometimes be the opposite approach in Western culture.
It was also noted that integrating these values can make the team and workplace a more accessible space for Māori and Pasifika and attract the skills and energy of our rangatahi.
Promoting self-awareness with a shared language
It doesn't matter which of the many tools or techniques your team uses. There are many out there available including Myer-Briggs, Working Genius and DiSC profiles. What matters is that the team has a shared language to express individual working preferences, strengths, and areas of growth. Understanding oneself and communicating effectively with peers is crucial in any team setting.
This shared language helps in mutual understanding and emphasises the importance of trust – which we've already seen can make or break a team culture.
When given constructively and received with an open mind, feedback can act as a catalyst for growth, fostering an environment where team members feel valued, understood, and integral to the team's shared mission.
Culture is not static. It evolves with the times, pressures and personalities. A good team culture requires nurturing, dialogue and mutual respect to create spaces where trust, safety and diverse perspectives are celebrated.
The depth and breadth of the conversations and the feedback we received demonstrate the importance of team culture in today's dynamic work environment. We loved having the opportunity to be part of these open dialogues so that we can continue to grow, learn, and contribute positively to our teams.