HR Mavericks

Eddy’s HR Mavericks Encyclopedia

Team Culture

In a market where changes are happening every day, culture is your biggest differentiating factor. Read further to unlock the best approach to building a cohesive team culture.

What Is Team Culture?

Team culture is a broad term encompassing everything that defines your team’s internal identity, including shared values, goals, objectives, characteristics, and vision.

Team Culture vs. Organizational Culture

Team culture and organizational culture share common functions, but different teams within an organization may have slightly different cultures. For example, a sales team within an organization may be more competitive in culture than a software engineering team. The important overlap between the team and organizational cultures is in shared organizational values and overall value proposition.

Why Is Team Culture Important?

There is a lot of talk within organizations today about the team culture, but why? Team culture is an organization’s secret formula, as important as market strategy, product, or service. Here are a few qualities that grow effective team cultures—qualities that result in higher productivity and more innovation.
  • Unity. Teams with people who are united embody Aristotle’s phrase, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This isn’t just a luxury or something that would be nice to have. In order to accomplish your critical goals, a unified team is a must-have.
  • Collaboration. Your team’s ability to be successful is not measured by their freedom from problems or challenges but by their ability to quickly, consistently, and effectively overcome them.
  • Conflict resolution. People are not always going to see eye to eye or agree on the best course of action. Teams with a strong culture are able to resolve differences quickly without holding grudges or seeking retaliation. Resolving internal conflicts quickly allows teams to find solutions and work towards solving real problems.
  • Adaptability. Change is not something that only happens in uncertain markets or in rare circumstances. Organizations that want to thrive in the long term have to learn how to adapt to change repeatedly in many different circumstances.
  • Helpfulness. When people help each other, it is a good indicator that they are engaged in the mission of your organization. Teams that are filled with helpful people enjoy the benefits outlined in the proverb, “Many hands make light work.”

How to Measure Your Current Team Culture

The most objective way to measure your team culture is to use data. Since it can be difficult to measure how people feel about the values and vision of the organization, here are some suggestions.

Step 1: Clearly Define What You Want Your Culture to Be

Before you can measure your team culture, you need to understand what it is. This needs to be more clearly defined than listing some of the characteristics that people on your team have. When defining what you want your culture to be, here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • Make sure you tie it closely to your company's mission statement.
  • Include your company's guiding values.
  • Make sure it fits a diverse audience.
This is a fun area of company culture. Your culture will be unique to your organization and there is no way to tell you what it should be. You want your culture to be inclusive and in line with your mission statement, but other than that, your culture is whatever you want it to be.

Step 2: Decide What You Want to Measure and How You Will Measure It

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to measuring your team culture; it is as unique as your product or mission. Here are a few questions to ask as you are deciding what the best measures of team culture will be within your organization.
  • Do people vent their frustrations vertically or horizontally?
  • Do the people on my team socialize during lunch or outside of work?
  • Are people voicing their ideas at every level of the organization?
  • How empowered do people feel to solve problems?
  • How evenly is work distributed across the people on the team?
  • Is everyone pulling their weight?
  • When situations occur outside of the normal scope of a role, how ready to handle those situations are the people on your team?
  • What themes are you hearing from your people?
  • What common problems do you hear about?
  • What problems are not being solved?
  • What types of problems are solved easily?
  • How satisfied are the people on your team?
  • What is your attrition rate?
  • How long does it take to onboard new employees?
  • How long does it take before new employees feel they are fully integrated?
  • Does your team embody your organization’s core values?
  • Is your team accomplishing its deliverables and goals?
  • Is your team producing people who are being promoted?
  • How does your team describe the team environment?
  • How does your team describe the work environment?
  • How diverse is your team?
  • What signs do you see of toxic cultural traits?
  • What impact does your team have on the overall organization?

Step 3: Create Focus Groups

Once you have determined what you want to measure, consider creating focus groups that meet regularly to discuss team culture. Focus groups consist of people from different teams in your organization so they can organically gather information about your team culture. Focus groups can look at culture as a whole or at a specific area of team culture. You can focus specifically on improving your team culture or look to maintain it over time. Focus groups should consist of people from different teams or functions with diverse voices that can give you a broad and in-depth understanding of how people within your organization are feeling. The more diverse the sample size within your focus groups, the more objective and encompassing the information gathered will be. Make sure your focus groups are a safe space for people to voice their opinions, concerns, and visions for the future. When focus groups are allowed to share their genuine and authentic feelings, you will get a true understanding of the state of your culture within your organization. You can consider creating a general focus group that discusses the entire organization, and you may also want to consider creating focus groups within a specific team.

Step 4: Send Surveys

The information you gather from surveys provides insight into your company culture and gives you a concrete measuring tool. Surveys should usually be anonymous. You may allow people the ability to identify themselves, but in most instances, anonymity will be the best way to encourage people to be genuine. Use the data in surveys and report back on how you are using it. People will only continue to fill out surveys if they know it’s going to make a difference. Surveys will help you gather objective data; objective data is important for accurately understanding your culture.

Step 5: Conduct Exit Interviews

Exit interviews are a powerful tool for gaining candid and authentic feedback from disgruntled or underperforming employees as well as top-performing people who have been lured on to other opportunities. While exit interviews are sometimes seen as data gathered too late, they can still be used to fix a problem or prevent a problem from spreading further. You should use a consistent set of open-ended questions in an exit interview that allow people to communicate openly. Use a consistent template of questions so that you know the information you are gathering will be on-topic, relevant to your culture, and consistent data to track.

How to Build a Strong Team Culture

Culture has to be built in the same way marketing strategies and operation strategies have to be built. A strong team culture only happens when it is intentionally created.

Center Your Culture on Your Mission Statement and Value Proposition

The core of your team culture should be your team’s mission. Your culture cannot stray from the guiding principles of your value proposition. Centering your culture on your mission statement and value proposition gives you a unique culture that stands out in a crowd of competition.

Focus on Your People

People can distinguish between cultures that focus on the well-being of employees versus cultures that sound good on a careers site. Give employees meaning and purpose. When you give people work that contributes to your organization’s goals in a meaningful way, they will be incentivized to stay and provide their best work. Give people opportunities to grow. Opportunities for growth are a commonly cited reason people give in accepting new opportunities as well as why they leave. Focus on work/life balance. Work/life balance is not a trend; it is here to stay. People are passionate about contributing to an organization’s mission and growth, and they are hungry to be able to do that in a way that still allows them to find balance in their personal lives. Include diversity, belonging, and inclusion. Don’t include diversity because other companies are doing it; include diversity as a fundamental part of your team’s culture because it will give you a better team with a stronger, more well-rounded, and balanced culture.

Be a Strong Leader

Leaders have the potential to make or break your team culture, so it's important that they get things right. Abby Olson, VP of training at Crumbl Cookies HQ, shared her thoughts on the importance of leadership in building up a strong team. "I believe that a powerful team needs those two things from their leader: support and recognition. I think the leader sets the bar and the pace. They give clear instruction, examples, and expectations, and then they make themselves readily available to be there to support their team members when they need it. If a leader says they’re willing to support, but are never there when the team is relying on them, you can expect that all the other team members won’t be there for each other as well.Teamwork starts from the top. And as a leader, you have to be willing to 'get in the weeds' with your team to set the example."

Avoid Policies That Pit Employees Against Each Other

This is pretty nuanced because competition in the workplace isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Depending on the team, a bit of competition can be extremely motivating. But competition turns sour when one employee’s win means another’s loss, and coworkers go from having each other’s backs to stabbing each other in the back.In Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on creating a safe workplace, he discusses the benefits of a unified workforce that go back to paleolithic times. He argues that the world was full of danger and was working very hard to kill us. In order to survive, homo sapiens became social beings. These social circles created circles of safety built on trust and cooperation. Basically, individuals could sleep at night because they could trust that someone else was up watching for danger.Sinek continues that we live in a similar environment today; the only difference is the type of dangers. Instead of saber-toothed tigers, we have competitors and evolving technologies that “frustrate [our] growth and steal [our] business from [us].”The only way we can survive these conditions well is by internal trust and cooperation. Any process that inhibits this type of environment is detrimental to the growth of everyone in the organization.

Start with Hiring

You can’t have a strong team culture without the right people. Your culture needs to start with recruiting and getting the right people in the door. Culture will almost become second nature when you place an emphasis on hiring people that will fit with your organization’s culture and add to it.
Tyler Fisher, PHR

Tyler Fisher, PHR

Tyler empowers Talent Acquisition professionals, HR business leaders, and key stake holders to develop and execute talent management strategies. He is igniting the talent acquisition process through: team building, accurate time to fill forecasting, driving creative talent sourcing, and fine-tuning recruiting team effectiveness.
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Frequently asked questions
Other Related Terms
Accountability in the Workplace
Company Core Values
Company Mission
Company Personality
Company Purpose
Company Vision
Corporate Social Responsibility
Culture Add
Culture Audit
Culture Committee
Culture Fit
Culture Interview
Culture Strategy
Employee Loyalty
Mission, Vision and Values
Occupational Folklore
Open Door Policy
Organizational Commitment
People-First Culture
Sustainability in the Workplace
Team Building Activities
Toxic Work Environment
Transparency in the Workplace
Workplace Culture
Workplace Diversity
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