You’ve probably already heard a lot about team culture and why it’s so important. And if not, the short version is that a positive team culture improves just about every aspect of the workplace imaginable. In contrast, a negative culture degrades productivity and can derail projects.
So, how do you build a positive team culture? Or — because there is always room for improvement — how do you make a good culture even better?
Whether you’ve ignored it until now or worked actively to shape it, all companies have a culture. A culture strategy is a strategy or set of tactics you’ll use to improve team or company culture.
Cultural strategies usually revolve around a company’s core values, so you’ll need to start there. Barring any updates those values may need, use them to build the framework for your strategy.
Here are some examples of how to approach culture strategy based on your organization's core values:
Research from Bravely reported that 97% of employees and executives believe that lack of alignment within a team impacts the outcome of every single project the team works on. Subsequently, team members with the highest role clarity tend to display the greatest efficacy on projects.
Numbers would vary by organization, but one attempt at putting a price on people, roles, culture, and clarity issues came in August 2016.
The sample size was small (83 senior managers), but the findings in a Harvard Business Review article were astounding: people problems in organizations cost you $144,541.30 per day — $52,757,574 of lost value per year.
The broader tie between organizational culture and the bottom line has been debated for years. Many business leaders believe culture is a softer managerial concept, but we continue to see that corporate culture does impact the bottom line, with as much as “half the difference in operating profit between organizations” attributable to cultural factors. 🤑
Culture strategy is crucial because it’s your roadmap to improving culture overall — and a great culture is important for several reasons.
Glassdoor’s Mission & Culture Survey reveals that 77% of adults consider a company’s culture before applying for a job there. With that, there’s no lack of stories in the news today about major companies with toxic cultures — and the wave of workers fleeing those companies as part of the Great Resignation.
A good workplace culture goes hand in hand with more efficient team members and a more comfortable work environment. It can also help you lower turnover while attracting top talent to fill the few roles that do open up, and helps make your team — and your company — more effective at what you do.
As you start to build your culture strategy, be sure to include these seven elements:
Culture starts with the leadership team and with the mission that your team unites around. Without those things, teams can quickly devolve into individualistic power struggles.
This means that developing a team voice and mission should be a top priority — and it should also be something that you do as a team. Avoid creating platitudes that feel empty and instead create a mission that aligns team goals while boosting morale.
Culture breaks down when team members are unhappy. Worse, there are a lot of things that can cause unhappiness, like:
Those are just a few examples. If you want to develop a better culture, make it part of your strategic plan to search out the things that make team members unhappy and work toward positive changes that lead to better well-being.
Few things are more demoralizing than a dead-end job. And what is a dead-end job, exactly? It’s one with little hope of growth, development, progression, or advancement. You won't gain new skills and have little chance of moving up the ladder.
Part of improving culture means ensuring that there are opportunities for growth. Provide learning opportunities, create initiatives to build new skills, and recommend team members who are qualified when promotions become available. In short, make it part of your strategy to provide growth opportunities so that you can prevent that sense of being stuck in a dead-end job.
Recruitment and onboarding needs to be part of your cultural strategy, too. There are two key things you’ll need to do here.
First, do your best (or make sure human resources does their best) to recruit new team members who are good cultural fits. For example, extroverts might be uncomfortable on an introverted remote team — or vice versa.
Next, make sure to provide socialization opportunities during the onboarding process. Introduce new hires to their fellow team members, and give everyone a chance to get to know each other. This is especially important for remote teams since there are fewer opportunities to interact and socialize during day to day office encounters.
Teams with a great culture are teams who readily communicate and work well together to accomplish shared goals. Thus, promoting internal collaboration and communication is a must for your culture strategy.
To do that, it’s important to foster an environment where communication is valued and to use the right apps and tools for communication and collaboration.
Choose tools that your team prefers to make sharing and communication easier.
According to recent research, the most important driver of great work is recognition, with 37% of respondents saying recognition is the most effective way to inspire their best work.
For you, that means your organizational culture needs some sort of reward program plus opportunities for recognition. Since funds aren’t endless, save rewards for the big milestones and major achievements — but be sure to offer recognition and appreciation often for the smaller daily accomplishments, too.
Change is inevitable, and the problem with toxic workplace cultures is that team members who are part of those cultures don’t handle change well. At best, these Negative Nancies begin complaining, which drags down morale. At worst, chaos ensues as people refuse to adapt to whatever changes are occurring.
This is why part of your strategy needs to be devoted to ways to keep things upbeat even when change does happen. It’s all about sustainability in the face of evolving circumstances — as recent events like the pandemic have proven.
Whether adopting new technologies or changes in work environments, if you plan ahead and build your team’s culture with these eventualities in mind, you can make those transitions much easier.
Knowing how to design a culture strategy is one thing. How do you accomplish it successfully so that you can drive positive culture change?
Culture is a top-down thing that starts with leadership. If you want to affect meaningful change within an organization’s culture, business leaders need to come first. Get them on board and aligned with your strategy before you get to work elsewhere within the organization.
Next come your team members — and you can make this phase part of the execution of your culture strategy. Remember, people want to feel recognized. One easy way to offer that recognition is to accept input from team members and utilize it.
Letting team members take on parts of the brainstorming and decision-making process will also help you build a more robust corporate culture that will end up with higher employee engagement, too. Why? Because while leadership is responsible for setting the right tone, it’s the teams who are immersed in the culture day in and day out. They’re your “boots on the ground,” so to speak, and as such, they’ll have their own assessments and insights that may not be as obvious to those at the top of the org chart.
One of the most important things to remember when executing your strategy is that it’s better to do it gently. Don’t force a major change all at once. If your company culture is already struggling, your teams may not accept a vast wave of change with positive attitudes.
Instead, break your culture strategy down into manageable stages and execute it one piece at a time. Be transparent, set aside biases, and start with the most important initiatives first. For example, if you don’t have a rewards or recognition program, then it may be wise to start there, especially since rewards and recognition are generally positively received.
Keep building from there — and be sure to track metrics along the way. Measuring a cultural shift can’t be judged entirely on feelings. Team members may be happier, for example, but are they more or less productive than before? Building a high-performance culture means more than creating happiness, and you’ll need to track performance metrics to make sure you’re getting the desired results.
We discussed a few benefits of an effective culture strategy above to underscore why these strategies are so important, but now it’s time to dig deeper. What do you really stand to gain from an effective strategy? Quite a lot — more than just a stronger team culture (https://www.range.co/blog/3-ways-to-strengthen-team-culture). Let’s explore the benefits below.
At some companies, the culture has a habit of changing as new initiatives or ideas develop. In the worst cases, it happens every time management reviews profits, productivity, or other metrics — and then decides yet again to revamp their business strategy and make a cultural change to fix whatever they think is causing the performance decline.
When you have a culture strategy in place, you can maintain a consistent culture and avoid the confusion and discomfort that comes with constantly shifting goals and expectations.
It may seem self-explanatory that having a better working environment leads to happier employees — but it goes a little deeper than that. For example, employee retention goes up. Burnout is less likely, as are workplace squabbles, leading to people taking fewer sick days just to get away and decompress. All in all, we can't overstate the benefits of happiness and well-being.
We mentioned above that happy team members are more productive, but there’s more to productivity than just a raw boost in numbers. Improving culture through a carefully designed strategy means that you also empower teams to communicate and collaborate more — and teamwork is what it’s really all about. Not only does a strong culture facilitate these things, but it also opens the doors for brainstorming and innovations, which in turn can lead to a major competitive advantage: You could see exponential gains in productivity.
This one is one of those benefits that gets overlooked often, but it’s one of the better ones you’ll see. The thing is, word spreads about company cultures. For example, you’ve likely heard stories about what it’s like to work at Amazon, Google, or other big companies. Even among smaller workplaces, the word still gets around.
For companies with a bad or toxic culture, that’s a bad thing. Word will spread that it’s an unpleasant or toxic place to work, and people will be reluctant to apply for open positions. Meanwhile, the companies known for having an excellent culture will be snatching up the top talent.
Think of your culture strategy as differentiation — one more way to set your company apart from others, and to give your company a competitive advantage over others when it comes to attracting and retaining exceptional hires.
Communications will naturally be a huge part of any culture strategy initiative. Improving culture often means improving communication channels and providing a great set of tools for team members to collaborate and for team leads to host meetings and check-ins.
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