Growth can sometimes be unpleasant for your staff. They may be expected to work longer hours, take on new responsibilities, interface with new partners and providers, or, most challengingly, start thinking about their company in an entirely new light. One way to hold your team together when faced with all of this rapid, seismic change? Build a strong team culture.
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 environment — not just physical, but also psychological and emotional — your employees work in.
When their organization is transforming before their very eyes, your team must feel they’re in a nurturing work culture in which they can communicate, collaborate and thrive together. Building this kind of environment requires serious, substantial culture development, but with these five techniques, you can make it happen.
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Build around your goals
The place to start with culture change is to figure out what you want your culture to accomplish for your organization. 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.
Maui Mastermind CEO and author David Finkel 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.”
Synchronizing — or as Finkel says, “aligning” — your team culture development 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 employees try to approach change as individuals rather than a single unit, the result is often disarray and confusion. 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.”
From start to finish, major culture development initiatives should include time for meetings, exercises, and activities that encourage your staff to get together and talk through their experiences. If a member of your team is out of sync with everyone else, 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 so that individuals who are uncomfortable sharing their concerns with everyone can do so in private.
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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 2016 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 — and it will motivate them to continue that work.
Train for change
Training is how your staff learns about their workplace and their roles, so your culture needs to be a part of it. SchoolKeep’s course authoring tools, for example, can be used to create sessions that teach your team about your brand’s values, which will make it easier for new hires, in particular, to assimilate into your culture.
But you should go deeper than just teaching the culture; the training itself should reflect the culture. Design the way you train to show the things you want your staff to value. As discussed in this use case on internal training, training that has culture built into it helps explain “the ‘bigger picture’ to help staff avoid feeling they work in a vacuum.”
You can show your team that personal growth is an important value for your brand by creating a custom, in-depth learning plan for each employee and using your LMS’ reporting features to measure their long-term progress.
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Permeate every corner of your training — and the rest of your workplace — with your culture. This isn’t something your team should know; it’s something they should live.