We spend a lot of time talking with leaders and teams about team culture. What’s interesting is how often these are new conversations for them.
This is especially true in current times where people suspect that culture can contribute to productivity and well-being challenges. In the “good old days” when we were co-located, we had a more immediate sense of its place and power. We just lived our culture without necessarily feeling an urgency to talk about it. Now we must.
Even though teams know culture is a core variable in performance, learning, and talent attraction and retention, they don’t know how to have the conversation about it. They’ve never learned how.
The whole notion of culture can seem squishy and hard to measure. There can be concerns that opening the conversation could open the door to all kinds of non-actionable emotions. Considerations about culture could be preempted by the naive belief that things would improve if people were just “held more accountable” by their leaders. Culture does not need to be an unreferenced elephant in the room.
We find that leaders become skillful in inviting and facilitating culture conversations when they are first clear on what culture is.
In its simplest form, culture is what’s normal for a team. It’s how a team normally interacts, learns, and gets things done. In higher-performing teams, what’s normal is alignment, working from values and strengths, an environment of psychological safety, continuous experimenting, and people feeling valued and supported.
For many teams, the culture they have today is what naturally evolved from countless conditions, events and dynamics over time. Whatever the culture today, teams can intentionally shape the culture they want to see. It begins with just having conversations about culture.
A team can have a culture it hasn’t consciously and collaboratively created, but a team can learn how to consciously and collaboratively create a stronger culture.
Here are 3 questions that can make the culture conversation accessible, manageable, and productive:
- What do you think are the core elements of our team culture?
- What about our team’s culture do you think is working?
- What is something new we could try or experiment with to make our culture even stronger?
These questions build awareness and intention. It’s a great start for any team.