Determining and defining a team culture is the ground upon which the team operates. I have worked with organizations and teams with no defined culture, no rules by which to play the game. Very often team members will then make up the rules which more than likely will be different for different people. Consistency serves, everyone plays by the same rules, no exceptions, and when there is alignment with the values of an organization great things can happen. Every person is different when it comes to, “playing by the rules.” Some will defy the rules, other acquiesce to their detriment, others play with dignity and integrity. Humans appreciate just enough structure, but left on its own, a culture will organize itself which often does not a pretty outcome.
Let’s think about this is a different way. Coming from the belief that a well-grounded culture is not just useful, but necessary, how can this be done? One way is to consider that a defined culture is a set of practices a group of people commit to embodying, and is revealed by day-to-day activities, behaviors and habits, and interactions with other team members. It is the aligned practices of effective coordination. The ground is always about holding the integrity and dignity of oneself, each other, and the organization. Who gets to decide the practices? The team leader or team members names the game, and there is always an openness to assessments about the cultural practices made by team members that can increase the value and effectiveness of the team. This is a component of a world class team, part of cultural practices: there is always not just permission or invitation, but a responsibility to speak up when relevant, useful, or necessary.
What is a practice. As used here, a practice is a commitment to a recurrent action. People have writing practices, music practices, fitness practices, dance practices, practices in so many domains in life. Some examples of cultural practices for teams:
• Be kind, be polite
• Be honest and authentic
• Live dignity and integrity
• All actions build trust
• Make promises and commitments – be accountable, hold others accountable
• Make effective request and offers
• Willingness to admit mistakes
• Everyone is responsible for the success of the team
• Provide grounded assessments where useful or necessary
Not everyone is naturally good at all these things. We could say the above list is a set of skills to be practiced and embodied, and for some, personal development can be very valuable. When a team begins to embody these skills, individual engagement increases, effectiveness increases, bottom line increases, do-overs are deceased substantially, meeting are shorter, quality of work is improved – the list goes on. It’s not about perfection, mistakes will be made.
An effective, defined, and embodied culture allows all players to play their best game.