To Raise Productivity – Fix Team Culture
Behavioral norms and motivational mindsets that drive a team’s activities and interactions gather together to form a team “culture.” This set of habits and understandings is what is passed on to new team members through the onboarding and “settling in” phases of a person’s employment. A boss may think he or she is molding a new hire in productive ways, but the team culture is usually playing the biggest role in determining how productive that new person is going to be over time.
Critically, then, culture drives the team’s level of contribution and productivity, as well as its ability to flex in the face of events that challenge the status quo.
A leader can therefore do a lot to ensure the success of her or his team by examining its current culture, measuring how it helps or hinders goal achievement, and taking steps to shift the culture to value and habitualize more constructive behaviors and mindsets.
Great leaders take culture seriously
The power of your team’s internal culture can make or break you as a leader. That’s a strong statement, but legions of examples exist where teams of people worked to undermine a boss in response to the boss’ leadership style, an unresolved lack of agreement on the goals assigned, or perceived threats to their team “way of life.” You often see this friction called “institutional resistance.” Leaders must get a handle on what elements of the team culture are causing this friction, and address them head.
Step One: Value the culture, its history and adherents within the team
You cannot win a cultural battle with threats and mandates. You must win the trust and acceptance of those who own the culture (the team!) if you want them to change any cultural aspect that may be hindering productivity.
Step Two: Challenge beliefs and assumptions the trust-building way
Build awareness first. Many biases and motivators are unconscious, but affect the way people perceive their environment, interact with others and react to events. You should also respond without prejudgment to feedback like ‘this will never work’ or ‘it would be a mistake to change this.’ You want to open minds to new ideas, and raising comfort levels is a key first step to that goal.
Step Three: Let the team lead on the creation of a more productive culture
Ask rather than command: What kind of culture do we need to achieve our mission? Explore what an outside observer would see when the desired culture is in place. What systems or processes would they see operating? How would people be leading themselves and interacting with others?
Step Four: Change one or two elements at a time.
Change threatens habits that may be cherished by team members. Rapid, wholesale upgrades will overwhelm people, and raise their guards in defense their comfortable “way of life.” Progress should be steady, but at a deliberate pace. Get agreement on what cultural elements are the biggest drag on productivity, and work with the team to define the path to replacing bad habits with good.
Keep an eye out for “easy wins,” too. There are probably many habits and mindsets that the team knows must change, but haven’t yet been tackled. This is often more a question of bandwidth than desire. Give the team deliberate time, space and resources to get those changes done.
Step Five: Set standards for the team to meet.
As the boss, you can set milestones to meet that align with the teams agreed improvement plan. The organization is paying people to produce, and all must agree that it is your job to keep everyone progressing toward better outcomes.
Step Six: Walk your talk.
People judge or value based on what you do, not what you say. You need to be adapting your behaviors to reflect the same changes that you as a team have agreed to adopt.
Be a role-model for the behaviors and mindsets you want the team to habitualize.
Productive culture change demands a robust action plan. It needs action steps in which the team believes. It (and therefore you) needs to hold people accountable, and reward them for progress.
Step Seven: Infuse the cultural goals into the hiring process.
We are conducting several DNA position profiles for clients this year, as team leaders recognize they need to assess people skills as well as technical skills. They are prioritizing the need to hire people who will more quickly fit into the culture. This isn’t a brand-new trend, but it is starting to become the norm rather than the exception as its benefits prove real.
Each team has its own cultural issues, so these seven steps must be applied differently to each situation. But tackling cultural issues aggressively is a sure path to greater productivity, so get started!
We can help, of course. We have been wrestling with team-based cultural issues for close to 30 years. Tap that experience to speed you along the path to better team outcomes.