While a leader is responsible for setting the foundations for a positive working environment, it’s not possible, nor sustainable, for them to be solely responsible for maintaining a healthy team culture. Instead, they need to support team members to become co-creators of their culture so that everyone is empowered to build collaborative ways of working. This article shares three ideas.

Maintaining a healthy team culture has never been more layered and complex. Leaders need to consider a whole range of factors alongside the delivery of the work itself, including: managing overwhelm and workloads, introducing new entrants to the workplace, balancing expectations between different generations of workers, staying sensitive to diversity and ensuring inclusion, maintaining connection in remote or hybrid working, and keeping motivation and engagement high. And that’s even before we consider any change happening in the rest of an organisation, and all the other societal, economic and global challenges that are emerging as the world continues to see big shifts. There is no playbook for these situations – we’re learning as we go.

A leader is no doubt responsible for setting the conditions for a great culture to flourish – demonstrating the intention for a positive and productive working environment and role-modelling the behaviours they want to see. Their leadership style can make or break a team.

However, it is not solely up to the leader to sustain team culture – one person can’t keep up with everything that needs attention in a constantly changing environment. Once the right foundations are in place, every team member needs to invest time in, be accountable and take responsibility for strengthening collaboration. They need to become co-creators of the culture rather than consumers or contributors.

From contributors and consumers to co-creators

Team members who are consumers of their culture are passive in their approach to change and development. They accept things as they are, even if they are not working effectively. Consumers of team culture are usually not aware that they could take a different approach or that they could explore how things could be better. 

Contributors are a little more involved. They provide input, feedback and suggestions and think more about how they are individually contributing to the team dynamic. But culture development is still very much driven by the leader. This means the team can be reactive (and often resistant), to change, rather than responding to it effectively.

Co-creators of team culture collectively design how they work together. Everyone is empowered to initiate and drive change and continuous improvement. They have open conversations, engage in healthy conflict and have a joint interest in making work better.  

When all members of a team are co-creators, they can:

  • Problem-solve together and facilitate team conversations to improve ways of working
  • Recognise when an unhealthy team habit has developed and it needs to be addressed 
  • Notice when the team needs focused time together and take the initiative to organise a gathering
  • Identify when a meeting format has run its purpose and make suggestions to make it more effective
  • Regularly share their learnings with, and seek advice from other team members 

These teams are more responsive and adaptive because everyone has their eyes on what is and isn’t working. As a result, culture becomes more self-sustaining.

To support your team to become co-creators of culture, here are three approaches you can take: 

  1. Connect culture goals to your business goals, so that team development is embedded into work rather than seen as a separate activity
  2. Use your culture development to strengthen your team’s identity and enhance how you create value together
  3. Create a culture roadmap to outline how you will stay accountable and connected

 

1. Connect culture goals to your business goals, so that team development is embedded into work rather than seen as a separate activity

When you set business goals, also set culture-related goals that support them. This will create clarity around how your team needs to work together to be successful. Consider the behaviours and mindsets your team will need to adopt to achieve your targets – your ambitions will inform your team values. Then you can develop routines, rituals and communication methods that directly reflect your values and encourage positive team habits.

This way, you become more intentional about crafting a culture to set your team up for success, rather than it being an afterthought. Your team values are more powerful when they are related to the work that you need to do. Although teams can implement a range of quick tips and techniques that will make a difference in the immediate term, when these are “random” and not connected to team vision, goals and values, their impact will be shorter-lived. By moving from being tactical to being strategic, your values help you to work according to your quality standards or the impact you want to make. 

2. Use your culture development to strengthen your team’s identity and enhance how you create value together

A high-performing team will continually level up. Team members grow together, increasing their capacity to solve problems and respond to challenges. Co-creating your culture is an opportunity for you all to double down on what makes your team unique. 

As well as the work you do, this uniqueness comes directly from the knowledge, experience, perspectives and insights of your team members. And so your team’s potential for growth is also dependent on each team member’s ability to learn and grow.

By making space for creative conversations and critical thinking, you enable people to see how they contribute to the team culture. You can identify the areas that you each need to pay attention to and keep each other accountable. This tightens bonds in your team and ensures everyone is committed to collective development.

3. Create a culture roadmap to outline how you will stay accountable and connected

To keep your culture development top of mind and to continue to shift in the right direction, take some time to zoom out with your team to create a “roadmap” which includes:

  • Times for collaborative discussions and time alone for thinking/reflection/deep work
  • The meetings you will have and to what cadence
  • When you might have any big team away days and what the focus will be
  • How you will ensure engaging conversations that involve everyone when you are together
  • The asynchronous communication methods you’ll use between meetings to stay connected
  • Using visual thinking to support transparency and clarity 
  • Observations of group dynamics and optimising for psychological safety

This discussion will help your team to create practices that support high performance. Of course, these may change as the context and environment shift around you. But, with this holistic approach, working on your culture becomes more aligned with your actual work, and less about separate, disconnected “team building” events. Achieving long-term change becomes a little easier when you stay committed and pay close attention to it. The habits and behaviours you aim to develop will start to become embedded into your ways of working. You’re making a consistent effort towards culture and building momentum, rather than hoping for big one-off and immediate changes. 

Investing time in culture now is future-proofing your team and the workplace

While leaders are mainly responsible for bringing teams together effectively, they must also understand the value of encouraging all team members to play an active role in co-creating their culture. There are too many factors at play for a leader to be solely responsible for culture, and it’s unsustainable to do so. Team culture is a journey everyone should be on together.

Building collaboration capacity across a team creates stronger bonds so that the culture becomes self-sustaining.  A team is more likely to achieve its goals now, but will also be more ready and resilient to deal with any future challenges and uncertainty. In the longer term, those team members will also be well-equipped with the skills and awareness to facilitate high performance and engagement in the future teams they may lead themselves.

If you’re ready to kick-start your team culture journey with actionable insights and a clear framework, check out our Team Culture Diagnostic.

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