We partnered with Northpass, an enterprise learning platform for modern teams - built for ease and flexibility, on articles about building strong team cultures.
When a company is growing quickly, it’s easy to forget about culture. They may end up working longer hours, taking on new responsibilities, or interfacing with new partners and providers. Such changes might make them start thinking about their company in a very different light. How can you hold your team together in the face of all of this rapid, seismic change? Build a strong team culture beforehand -- one robust enough to survive such change.
Culture, as succinctly defined by Edwin Rose in How to Create a Team Culture, is an organization’s “shared expectations, values and beliefs.” Put another way, it’s the physical, psychological, and emotional environment your employees work in.
During times of transformation at a company, your team should feel like they’re still working in a culture where they can communicate, collaborate, and thrive together. Building this kind of environment requires thinking seriously about how to develop one’s culture in a substantial and sustainable way. These five techniques are key.
Grow around your goals
You’ve probably compiled objectives to meet during your period of growth. Maybe your culture goal is making sure everyone stays sane while you expand, or maybe you want to see your team improve in specific areas such as service, brand representation and efficiency.
Whatever your goals, it’s paramount that you identify them at the outset and then pinpoint the practices that will allow your staff to achieve them. Not only do goals focus your efforts, but they provide a metric to judge whether your culture change has been successful.
David Finkel who has been Maui Mastermind’s CEO for the past 12 years is a strong proponent of a goal-oriented approach to culture change, and argues that failure to incorporate goals into culture can have drastic consequences. “As obvious as it sounds,” according to Finkel, “many companies perform poorly and are scattered simply because they don't have clear goals and priorities.” He goes on to say, “While this is a simple concept to understand in theory, it is a difficult one to apply in practice.”
Synchronizing — or as Finkel says, “aligning” — your culture with your overarching goals will make your efforts far more impactful.
Give your values weight
The key challenge of culture is finding ways to make it matter to employees. You could put up “Hang in There, Baby” posters to promote resilience, or give everyone a plant at the start of the year to encourage growth, but ultimately these are just symbolic gestures. Culture is about imbuing your values into the work your staff performs every single day.
In the Harvard Business Review, business management expert and author Patrick Lencioni recommends that values be built into “every employee-related process — hiring methods, performance management systems, criteria for promotions and rewards, and even dismissal policies.” These areas, which tangibly affect the way your team thinks, feels, and performs in the workplace, are where culture is truly important and where your efforts should be focused.
If one of your values is versatility, assign a wider range of responsibilities to individual employees instead of having each team member focus on a single area. If it’s innovation, require staff to make one core alteration to their processes each month and discuss their findings at an all-staff meeting. For work-life balance, ban employees from logging on to work email on the weekends. There are countless ways to make culture meaningful.
Keep everyone on the same page
Unity is extremely important during culture change. When your staff try to approach change as individuals rather than a single unit, the result is often disarray and confusion. Not only will they be ineffective on their own, having such expectations for them individually rather than as a team cuts into their ability to work as a team. As the change agent, part of your role is making sure your team is in agreement on your values, the goals you set and the strategy being used.
In the eyes of many experts,, communication is essential to achieving this kind of harmony. In her list of necessary actions for a successful teamwork culture, HR writer and consultant Susan M. Heathfield says that strong teams must “talk about and identify the value of a teamwork culture,” and be “open to ideas and input from others on the team.”
Communicate with your company as much as possible, in the ways they respond best. Major culture development initiatives should include time for such communication, whether it’s in the form of meetings, bonding exercises, and training activities that encourage your staff to discuss their experiences. This promises that people don’t get left behind or out of sync with the company; , these facilitated conversations will allow them to catch up, while also resolving disagreements on how best to adapt to the new environment.
It’s also a good idea to supplement those group conversations with one-on-one meetings -- some employees prefer voicing concerns in private rather than in large groups.
Incentivize your team to embrace change
Until their new culture is second nature to them, your employees will experience growing pains. During the transition away from your old ways of doing business, it’s important to make sure your team is motivated to put forth their full effort into the new culture. At least in the beginning of the process, that may require incentives.
Offering bonuses and extra vacation time to staff who go the extra mile is one way to do this, but the effectiveness of this approach is questionable. A recent study from Willis Towers Watson found that only 20% of employers believed merit pay successfully drove better performance from their staff.
Simple recognition can be a surprisingly powerful incentive. When an employee goes above and beyond to embody your values and create a positive work environment, mention their accomplishments at an all-staff meeting. Individual and group morale can get a real boost from management acknowledging how hard they’ve been working to adjust to a new culture — studies have shown that public praise in particular can make a huge change in team culture and productivity. Integrating a performance management like Lattice -- which can put this praise directly in public channels like Slack -- can make this really big culture change really simple.
Train for change
Company culture does so much to attract top talent, retain great employees, and ensure people operations are always performing at its best.
Training is how your staff learns about their workplace and their roles, so your culture needs to be a part of it. For example, you can create courses that help your team understand your brand’s values -- in particular, this will help new hires align with your culture sooner. With Northpass’ cloud-based learning management system you can deliver engaging online employee training resources and scale training as your company grows, keeping your company culture intact.
Every corner of your workforce should reflect your culture -- so that when the company grows, the culture can grow with it.