Team cultures: Whys, Whats and Hows
- Omer Usanmaz
- July 25 2022
Before scrum masters come and explain agile methodologies to a team, the simplicity of having a culture defined is more critical. When there are defined core values, it will lead to the company building an air of positivity and, more crucially, better interpersonal relationships. When regular meetings lead to more memorable moments filled with humor, banter, and mutual respect, that's the foundation to build on.
In all practicality, the people make a company what it wants and aims to become. But why? Why is an inclusive environment integral for growing a healthy culture? How can you bring a culture of collaboration without anyone knowing that they're working together as a unit?
What is a sign of a Strong Company Culture?
Happy employees are not a result of an accident; they are the by-product of pushing that extra mile to make the workplace an enjoyable experience. It's not what the team is working on but how they work as a unit. The "whats" are easy to put on paper, whereas the "hows" will always be dynamic. Building a team starts with knowing the individuals and believing in a team member and grows through mutual respect and connection.
A conscious effort to maintain product quality should come from the way up. It comes through a consistent effort to maintain, empathize and understand a team of spirited individuals. The human resource department of several companies is guilty of not being able to empathize when they should. Overplaying the resource card to undermine the human factor leads to the team members feeling alienated. This tendency often leads them to lose the sense of belonging he needs to continue striving.
Teams have their ebbs and flows to operation, sometimes, it is smooth sailing, and sometimes there's an internal turmoil they choose to solve internally because the team is built that way. These often come when different teams work on a particular project. Behavior flow comes from understanding the people working and not measuring the work they've put in. Collective behaviors come from shared experiences and stories within a team. The same collective behaviors of a team define how they look at a project and how they can contribute to a cause. The happiest people are the most productive, but when happiness has a unique definition for every unique person, it's not a rule set in stone.
Once the base is set to pull references from, the bonding is less forced because there are memories of going through tough times and coming through on communication without issues. If every team understands that it is an autonomous environment, accountability and expectations are served at the right time with the right intention.
Thinking for the long run- Employee Retention
When a company recruits a team member, the prospect from this is to learn and grow mutually to benefit and be unfazed by the corporate struggle. Organizational culture has a lot to benefit from employee engagement; the first point of collaboration is active participation. Here is where a leader plays a role in defining structures and building channels for meaningful feedback. When informed decisions involve frequent communication, the chance of letting a space between ideas thought, and ideas talked about. Thriving team culture is never about what the team is provided with; coffee, desk light, and matching bags help but don't define it. It is the people that make the company what it is.
What begins from being patient while the recruit finds their footing in the system put in place has to translate into pushing them to grow out of their preconceived notions. And then pursue the kind of courses and get the contacts within the startup ecosystem that help them grow towards a long-term goal they have in mind.
How do you build a progressive culture?
High-growth startups are not just focussing on defining a culture but also address the employee's personal development by incentivizing upskilling. Upskilling is looked upon as the cornerstone of a growing successful business at various management levels. Valuing each other's time to respecting meeting times, 60 to 70-hour work weeks often don't let the employee unwind and retain their freshness into the next sprint, leading to burnout. A possible way to combat this is through spending time in team outings or understanding behavior. Analyzing collective behaviors to understand which kind of behavior flow suits the best is at the core of what attitude of leaders should be about.
Types of team cultures
It rarely happens that all like-minded people are put into the same team to grow, but the thing about being human is we grow, and we develop into what the collective efforts are. Understanding and valuing a person's individuality is a starting point for building a team in a progressive work environment. There are no rulebooks on building teams or any hard-bound rules. What works with a set of people might not work that well with another bunch, might be because of the way the team operates, the field in which they operate, or the people involved. There is no one-stop solution to an answer that comes from being together. To summarize, it's a human factor that drives business two steps forward.
Taking notes from emotions
Categorization can be made based on how a particular structure instills an emotion into how a team works. This categorization is done based on how the hierarchy focuses on a particular style of operation.
If the work done by one team has to be approved by the team leader to move forward: that's a culture focused and built around approvals. This system is slightly bureaucratic and has a hierarchical structure where accountability is easy to maintain, but the pitfalls lie with speed. The structure doesn't allow for fast approvals and quick assignments. Since the transaction is often between the assigned work and the completion, out-of-the-box thinking is out of the question as well. But it is a place with stable interpersonal relationships because the reasons to collaborate are often to learn and do better. This structure also paves the way to a perfectionistic culture where the work can be done and delivered.
Power culture is categorized as one where authority means everything. It is non-participative by nature and has the potential to cause interpersonal disputes. An inherent belief system that controls subordinates and dictates what the direction is without a collaborative approach is at the core of such a workplace culture.
On the other side, humanistic and helpful cultures are running the show in the startup space and at the core of these team-first corporate cultures, awarding the best performer and asking them to team up with mentoring and honing their peers to become a better version of themselves.
Thriving team culture is something that works for that set of individuals. The approach to team culture has got to be an iterative one before the company decides which way to go.
Critical components of a happy relationship- Startup version
The world is racing ahead, and the core of the new industrial revolutions is learning. The benefits startups provide are often underrated because growth is underrated, just as how a few high-performing teams can outperform conglomerates with efficiency and direction. A place that gives positive feedback just as well as the other way around is the place anyone would value highly.
Defining and redefining what an inclusive environment means in all practicality is the crux of driving the needle forward. In a world of pandemics and waves, there's that much more reason to be transparent about what you expect and what your colleagues can guide you through. Prioritizing hustle culture without a break will eventually lead to stalling creativity because it reduces productivity and burnout. The way to address burnout differs from company to company as well. Many startups work in the high-performance mode for a prolonged amount of time. The "being busy" culture often leads to small but prominent issues with building a positive feedback loop. If all the company knows about the people who work with them is their work, the company doesn't know them.
What does a horizontal culture mean?
A horizontal culture is where everyone understands each other's contribution to the company and focuses on respecting boundaries and breaking the gaps. This workplace model is where everyone pitches their share of ideas, however small their roles or specialties are. The idea board is always functional in a workplace where opinions are not filtered through expertise. When titles don't mean authority, it becomes easier to be transparent and communicate confidently.
The personal growth of a team member is exponential in such a premise because they are required to be flexible by design and learn how to handle a bit of everything. Eventually, this leads to the team member understanding what brings out the best in them and gravitating towards a role that suits them the best by doing. Like many experiences speak for themselves, it's about doing, not reading. Having an open-door policy where anyone can come in to address issues about the company means the possibility of them losing out through muting themselves through hesitancy is that much lower. You may not speak out about the good, but you will eventually speak about the bad and the weight dragging you down. That's where models like these help in communicating better.
Pros: Lack of hierarchical constitution gives the confidence to speak up and confront issues head-on with the team responsible in tow. Everyone is accountable for their job. It's the team vs. the problem, not team members vs. team leads.
Cons: Lack of direct reporting managers means accountability is often a self-maintained job, and it gets hard to differentiate between the lines. Too many multi-faceted people with no apparent expertise in either facet may cause a surplus of "Jack of all trades, king of none" people.
What does an Elite culture mean?
When there is a competition to do the best work at the highest level for the longest and everyone in the hierarchy is striving to push the company forward as their biggest priority, it's an exciting model of work culture. Everyone is pushing each other to be their absolute best, day in and day out. This also happens to be a model where the best performers are rewarded. Through fast-tracked career paths or even several positions, the higher-ups and their peers see and recognize their value as another reason to remain inspired.
Pros: It gives you the tunnel vision mentality to perform with perfectionism and consistency, the way you would want from your craft and skill. You are pushing the boundaries of what is possible through relentless pursuits and constantly outperforming the best to set a fresh benchmark in the team.
Cons: Constant pressure to perform and outperform might induce unnecessary stress, which is not everyone's cup of tea. Prolonged exposure to the run-of-the-mill corporate pressure might cause burnout.
Where does team-first culture come from?
If a company is invested in you just as much as you are invested in them and lets you learn with time, automatically, you are more patient with the bad days and more appreciative of the good days.
Many companies like LinkedIn and GitHub have incorporated a model where they let the workers define their engagement with the company. A company with such ideals sees a strong culture forming from consistent understanding. The return is simple; deliver what's required of them.
The unlimited leave policy is not a reason to slack, but several reasons to contribute to a work-life balance defined as their culture is allowed to breathe. Organizational values are not something forced upon but given a choice. An inclusive environment is not one where everyone exists for no real reason, but everyone contributes with their unique perspective to move the needle from a team of ideas to a team of people.
When do things go wrong?
Losing employees to higher paychecks is part and parcel of any industry; likewise, there's a good chance you take in employees for a higher paycheck than what they were on, but losing them to culture is a one-way path. In this context, the way culture defines itself is on the same wave of shared experiences. Interpersonal relationships within several teams form the crux of how a particular issue is. Bad relationships within the team become a rough road when it comes from a place of harshness. When significant decisions are made without consulting the team involved, panic sets in and sets a bad precedent for the problem.
The gap between team vs. team and teams vs. problem might seem silly when we read it, but blame culture is a significant reason highly skilled teams lose talent to their competitors. When an entire team has the back of one employee, any action taken on one likely affects everyone in that group. A strong emphasis has to be made when we're addressing a remote setting of a company, the types of team cultures that run in such a predicament are highly different.
Transparency drives everyone to strive harder; on the contrary, an open bias or a preconceived notion does a lot. It puts down someone's work as unimportant and makes the team leader look unapproachable, let alone someone to seek feedback from. "Luck is the residue of design," and a bad attitude is a residue of a toxic culture that rewards unhealthy levels of commitment. If a team is set up entirely in a remote setting, the factor that leads to bonding, and social gathering, takes a back seat. It should be the company's responsibility to teach and develop activities for people to engage in. For a reference, Hireology has a blend of remote and on-site workers; the company invests in equipping them with the technology and training on communication. It's only an essential step but goes a long way in making the team member feel heard and listened to.
Celebrating the best performers shouldn't mean restricting and putting people who cannot; upliftment doesn't mean putting others down. More often than not, a progressive work environment is where professional development happens along with a team. Even having one person drag the energies down with an attitude that does no good can cut productivity by half.
Where to start?
Innovation is not the only thing driving the world forward; understanding the people around is driving progress more often than not. There are several interaction points with a candidate where the involvement is more personal than analytical.
Dedication, commitment, and empathy cannot be condensed into mere character traits that fit into a 30-minute HR round. That's why a few companies are testing a full-day interview model. They get to test different skills of the candidate and how they believe they can contribute to the definition of an inclusive environment.
Instead of testing broadscale methods of concrete cultures, celebrate the autonomy to build structures within teams. Work with the team dynamics and identify where a leader comes into the picture, guide them through the management structure without the complexity of approaching one person for one problem. When necessary, bring in experience; senior leaders can plug holes and identify the problems faster than someone figuring out everything from scratch.
A little bit of empathy goes a long way; it has the potential to establish frequent communication routes and make informed decisions. It's always better to discuss ideas and then start with the direction; two brains always help.
Learning through upskilling and experience, a candidate shouldn't go through a wall to learn how to cope with the pace expected of them. Consistently learning the tricks of the trade to do a better job, day in and day out, means the work gets better bit by bit over time.
The way ahead
Any company originates from an idea; that idea with the right people with the correct mindset towards progress makes the clock tick and brains click. Companies were never about management levels and efficiency models but the people who made the idea stand out. How a professional treats their colleagues says a lot about how the company treats the unit. A compilation of ethics, values, and compassion stays at the core and moves the company towards the heights it wants to achieve, however high they may be.
Finding your answers might seem daunting until you begin the process. You can run alone to run fast, whereas you need to run with your team for a long time. Given the long game and investment companies put into candidates, losing them to how they treat their employees should set alarm bells ringing.
Good culture doesn't come from not having issues at all, but it comes from a place where everyone is unfazed by any problem that pops up because together, we're just a little stronger.
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