Building a team culture that supports your people and drives strong outcomes for the organisation

Ilea Stoltenberg

Building a team culture

I have been working with one of our long-term clients, specifically with helping to improve the culture of an important team – they are the frontline of a vital organisation that does remarkable work for the community they support. There is a new leader to the organisation with a lot to offer, but a different leadership style than the team is used to which has brought up a few challenges. The leader and their team are all high-achievers and want to do the best for their people, the organisation more broadly as well as the community. However, there are a few sticking points which we are working through to make the team culture more supportive of those on the team as well as driving stronger otcomes – for both the team and the business.

Creating an effective and strong team culture stands as an important differentiator to any flourishing organisation. As a leader, this might be one of the most important initiatives for you to lead and ensure you get right. Its significance extends far beyond merely fostering collaboration; it intertwines with the very essence of innovation, productivity, and the overall wellbeing of employees. As a result, a strong culture is no longer a nice-to-have but is integral to a company’s success, and as leaders we should be aiming to ensure the right culture contributions are at play. However, as any leader knows, building a robust team culture is no easy task. It requires leaders to understand the intricate dynamics of human interaction, motivation, and behaviour particularly when dealing with diverse personalities, varying work styles, and differing perspectives.

Below are four strategic pillars that can help reshape team dynamics, elevate engagement, and lay the groundwork for a thriving work environment. These are areas that I am working on with the leader and team described at the beginning. By applying these actionable principles, leaders can shape a workplace where everyone flourishes, collaborates seamlessly, and contributes their best efforts toward shared goals.

1. Clarify Values and Purpose

Establishing clear values and a compelling purpose lays the groundwork for a strong team culture. When everyone within the team comprehends and aligns with these core principles, it creates a sense of purpose and direction – a compass that shows us the direction we are all headed together, even if we take a different route along the way. When we have well-defined values and a clearly communicated purpose, together they allow team members to understand the greater meaning behind their responsibilities. It is this clarity that helps decision-making, ensures consistency in actions, and unites everyone towards a common goal. With the team I am supporting, everyone has a clear idea and understanding of what the team’s purpose is which is highly aligned and also supporting the team’s objectives. However, they do not have alignment on the team’s core values or guiding principles which is holding them back.

To ensure consistency and alignment, the leader may want to hold discussions or team sessions to define the core values that represent the team’s beliefs but also identify their common purpose. Once these have been identified and defined, weaving the values and purpose into how the team works together is critical. For example, integrating these principles into daily operations, decision-making, and recognition programs.

2. Foster a Climate of Psychological Safety

A team culture with low levels of psychological safety is less effective at cultivating trust, encouraging idea-sharing, and helping resolve conflict promptly. With the team I am working with, there are some red flags around lower levels of psychological safety, such as, the fear of providing feedback, shutting down ideas which go against the status quo and being fearful of making mistakes. It is important to create an environment where each team member feels that they can be vulnerable, speak their mind and be open with one another.

Psychological safety is built at the team level through the day-to-day interactions and the leader sets the tone for these interactions. Leaders could consider the following questions if wanting to improve overall levels of psychological safety. Are you rewarding the vulnerability of your people? Are you listening and pausing, rather than telling or advising? Are you expressing gratitude and appreciation for your people – how frequently are you doing this?

3. Promote Collaboration and Teamwork

Nurturing a collaborative team environment where team members work together towards common goals is key to a positive team culture. Encouraging collaboration not only enhances productivity but also cultivates a sense of camaraderie. This is important as collaboration brings diverse skills and viewpoints together, leading to innovative solutions and better outcomes. It also builds trust among team members, strengthens relationships, and fosters a supportive atmosphere.

With the team, it is apparent that whilst they are called a leadership team, they do not view themselves as one team, rather they are a disconnected, siloed team. There is nothing connecting each person to the wider goals, purpose or participation from a team perspective. Therefore, it is a priority to identify shared programs of work across the team and work on mutual problems together – looking for synergies and how each team member can support and help one another.

4. Recognise and Celebrate Contributions

I have yet to work with a team that truly takes the time to recognise and celebrate wins. Why do we not view this as an important element to building effective and strong team cultures? Acknowledging individual and team effort is essential for reinforcing positive behaviour and fostering a sense of appreciation within the team. Recognition boosts morale, motivation, and engagement levels among employees. When we feel appreciated for our contributions, this increases job satisfaction and encourages continued effort to perform well in the long-term. This team was no different, there are no indicators of celebrating, acknowledging and recognising contributions and wins.

Implementing a recognition program that celebrates both individual and team accomplishments can be quite helpful. This should incorporate criteria that includes specific behaviours, contributions, or outcomes that showcases effective teamwork and can take form in a number of ways including awards, shout-outs in meetings, or public appreciation via internal communication channels.

Whilst my work with this particular team is still underway, we are already starting to see some positive shifts in the team culture after implementing a few of the strategies outlined above. Culture change takes time, but it is worth the investment because the rewards will be paid back for the team members, the leader, the organisation and the customers. What can you start to implement today that would help to build a more robust and effective team culture?

Ilea Stoltenberg is a talent, organisational and leadership development professional with global and cross-industry experience. She applies her expertise of psychometric assessment, knowledge of current human capital research, trends, and psychological principles to act as a performance catalyst for individuals and teams. 

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