How to Build and Sustain a Positive Team Culture

April 12, 2021
Young diverse team working together
Whether you have a long-established company culture or are looking for new beginnings, here are some ideas that will take you and your team(s) to the next level.

Despite the varying life experiences amongst your colleagues and team members, there is one thing that you all share: culture. We aren’t talking about the culture that comes from one’s ancestral heritage like symbols, foods, norms, values, language, and mannerisms. We’re talking about workplace culture.

What kind of culture have you established throughout your teams? Are there shared aspirations of transparency, collaboration, and thinking outside the box? Is your organization’s culture lacking direction, and thus fragmented and inconsistent across departments? Wherever you are now, there are several ways in which you can incorporate a positive workplace culture for your colleagues and teams. The benefits of building a positive team culture are unquestionably worth your time, thought, and energy. Here are a few ideas to get started.

Be Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable  

Individuals and organizations are likely to stick to what they know. It’s understandable. It’s so much easier to resist the unknown and avoid moments of discomfort altogether. The problem with that mentality is that your workforce fails to grow in any meaningful way. Equipping your company and team members with the unique set of tools (tangible and intangible) needed for making meaningful progress they need to navigate and trail blaze in your industry does not only keep them engaged, but also gives them the wherewithal and confidence to handle the inevitable challenges that will come across their desks.
We all have those mundane, run-of-the-mill tasks we need to take care of to keep our company running. However, when it comes to establishing a positive team culture in the workplace, real growth comes when you and your teams venture into the unknown. In short: get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Age-old wisdom agrees that real growth comes from the willingness to take on brand new challenges. For instance, look at King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table on their quest for the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail, a symbol for our highest potentialities, could only be pursued by knights who dared to journey into the forest. After deliberation, they agreed that each knight could only pursue the Holy Grail by entering the forest at the point darkest to him. Similarly, an organization and its workers can only reach its highest potential by venturing where they typically would not. It’s just a matter of accepting that it will be uncomfortable from time to time.

Form Good Habits  

We are the sum total of what we do. The same goes for our organization. To build a positive team culture that lasts longer than a New Year’s resolution, you need to form good habits across your company. By definition, forming a new habit requires consistent repetition. The most damning thing about habits is that they manifest whether you’re trying or not, meaning you (and many others) can unintentionally develop bad work habits. On the positive side, good habits can be deliberately cultivated to help fulfill you and your team’s goals. It takes a heavy and steady dose of mindfulness, attentiveness, and team effort to deconstruct the bad workplace habits and eventually replace them with good ones.  

Take a look at your organization and teams as they exist right now. What sort of daily activities do they undertake and how are their goals accomplished? How would you characterize the habits of your team? If you were to replace any of these habits, what would you replace them with? In its simplest, most distilled form, a good workplace habit is a regular tendency that benefits the overall wellbeing of your organization. If you create new habits that meet such criteria, your organization is sure to reap the benefits down the line. The same goes for your workers and their teams.

Set Meaningful (and Achievable) Goals  

As an employee, few things are worse than feeling like you aren’t making a difference. On the other hand, few things are better than knowing that you are needed and have the opportunity to make a sizable impact. Giving your teams meaningful goals to work toward, therefore, is an essential building block towards a positive team culture.

First, how exactly do we define a goal? Elliot T. Berkman, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, defines a goal as “any desired outcome that wouldn’t otherwise happen without some kind of intervention[...]Goals are usually things we want but have difficulty achieving even when we know they are achievable.”

By grouping tasks into quadrants separated by the relationship between “level of skill required” and “level of motivation” required for a task, the kind of goals you should set for your team becomes clear. If you want to build a positive culture for your teams, you have to start by addressing the mentality and general behaviors of your workforce.

Source: The Neuroscience of Goals & Behavior Change

The goals that you set for your teams should require “complex and novel tasks” to accomplish. This means that in order to accomplish their goals, they have to assert a high level of skill and a high level of motivation. Not only does it give your team a vote of confidence, but it inspires them to rise to the occasion and perform their best.

An important thing to understand about meaningful goals is what makes them meaningful. They aren’t meaningful just because someone says they are. There’s more to it. Clear communication with your team as to why their work matters is essential to building a sustainably positive team culture. When everyone has the opportunity to be challenged and understand why their work is so important, the positive team culture essentially builds itself.

The Takeaway

Building a positive team culture doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes a concentrated and consistent effort. Venturing into the unknown as a cohesive unit helps gain insight into what you and your teams are capable of. Forming productive habits that benefit team chemistry and the company as a whole ensures that the change you wish to see will last. Last but not least, assigning meaningful goals to each team and team member reminds them why they are there in the first place while giving them more confidence and an opportunity to showcase the height of their potential. So what are you waiting for? The best time to start was yesterday, but the next best time is right now.

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