Europe is slowly opening up after the COVID-19 lockdown. After weeks of isolation people are finally allowed to go out for a walk, factories are re-starting their production machines and office employees will soon be starting back.
Each team member has had their own difficult situations to overcome; some have had to share home office with kids who have been doing home-schooling, others who usually love being active are feeling claustrophobic at not being able to exert themselves in the gym or on a long outdoor bike ride. Maybe over the last few weeks work has not always been foremost on their minds. Now is the ideal time to “re-align” and create or revise your team culture. Many of us have been obliged recently to contemplate what matters to us most. What are our values, whether at home or at work.
Culture is often overlooked by leaders because it can seem too abstract. Actually, it’s quite concrete once we sit down and discuss it with our team. A strong team culture creates cohesion, pride, team spirit, accountability, open communication, inclusion, productivity and therefore a high-performing team. Creating a team culture is the way to bring that cohesion and team spirit back to the forefront if it is has slipped a bit during lockdown.
What are we referring to when we say culture? Culture is a set of norms accepted and encouraged by the group; acceptable ways of behaving, communicating and getting things done, for example:
- What is the acceptable way that our group gives feedback to one another or?
- How do we move forward with a risky decision? Do we plan and wait until we are more “certain” or jump and “fail fast”.
- How do we disagree? Is it acceptable to disagree openly with another teammate in a group meeting and encourage constructive conflict or is that rather frowned upon?
- What is a productive way for us as a team to make decisions?
- How do we problem-solve when we have little time on our hands, etc.
There are different methods of creating your team culture. What is essential is that it be created by the team, not a few individuals or leaders. Below is a 4-step activity you can start with, there are obviously other methods. This exercise can be done face-to-face or virtually. If you plan to do it virtually then consider planning 4 short sessions rather than one long session. If you do the below 4-step activity you need to invest time in the discussion part of the activity (step 2). Give every team member the opportunity to express themselves and allow for possible introverts to have their say about how they also envision the team functioning well. The important message here is that it is the team that creates the culture it believes in. You’ll need to discuss common values and therefore have every member speak up. This could be difficult on a virtual culturally diverse team, so prepare well for that moderation hurdle.
Step 1: Plot a Culture Map
Each team member plots themselves on a Culture Map along 4 scales related to behaviour or communication. Each scale shows each team member’s preference (see sample culture map below). The four scales can be varied, but those that create strong discussions often are:
- How you build trust and manage conflict
- Problem Solving techniques
- Decision making – do you feel the need to be involved or not
- How you deal with uncertainty / risk taking,
Once everyone is plotted it is more obvious to see similarities and differences between team members. Remember, differences can be complementary and can enhance creativity and problem solving solutions, therefore don’t play them down.
Step two: This is the most essential part of the exercise. Do not skip it. This is the time for discussion. Let’s zoom in on scale 1 above and use it as an example:
Ask each person to discuss their preferences according to what they plotted. In the above example, which looks at communication and how we give feedback or disagree, Elena might come across to Emmanuel as being domineering or aggressive. She may not realise it. You could probably discuss here what the benefits are of having somebody always play devil’s advocate and on the other hand discuss how important it might be with clients to have colleagues who steer away from conflict, such as Emmanuel. Consider how team behaviour might differ according to what Elena’s role is. If she is the leader of the team it might come across differently compared to if she is not. You might discuss what conflict actually means to the individuals. For some it could mean saying, “I think your plan is really inefficient and our client will hate it.” This could come across as quite aggressive for some Asian cultures. For others, conflict could be as simple as a gentle disagreement. Another topic to discuss here is when (if ever) do the individuals feel comfortable disagreeing; do they need a relationship of trust before being able to disagree?
This discussion is the heart of the workshop. Each person openly speaks about what their preference is. Each scale needs to be discussed and once you complete the discussion of each scale move to step 3. If you do this as a virtual workshop you may prefer to do one complete scale from step 1 to step 4 during each virtual session.
Step three: Discuss a strategy to be more efficient (if necessary) thereby creating your ideal team culture. For the above scale, your discussion could start with:
- How can we come up with good ideas and exchanges in the future and get everyone involved, including those who don’t like conflict?
- How do we create more open/transparent discussions within the team?
- How can we make sure everyone on the team is listened to, both the risk-takers and the risk-averse even though some of them have stated they don’t like to enter conflict?
- How can this knowledge help us run more productive meetings?
Step four: Once the points in step 3 are agreed to by all members, write your team charter. These are the “behaviour and norms” you will follow as a team according to what was discussed in step 3. It is important to write them somewhere where the whole team has access to them so you can occasionally go back to them. They can be used for example before starting a meeting or after a few months when some points seem to have been forgotten.
The Team Charter should be “Our Culture”: Not yours, not mine, but ours. It is a culture in which each team member thinks: “I feel comfortable working here because my values are appreciated. I feel I can be myself and therefore it brings out the best of me.”