Creating a Post Covid-19 High Performing Team Culture
“Have the courage to see what is wrong with your culture and then do something about it.”
What do I mean by culture? It is one of those words that gets banded around a lot, especially at the moment as we continue to operate during the pandemic. Many people are saying that their culture has dramatically changed. It is certainly up there in the top five things that clients talk to me about when they approach me for help (along with lack of effective communication, inflexibility of processes, lack of bonding in the team and struggling with problem solving and strategy planning).
So why is culture such a buzz word?
Well, firstly even though you may be in a different situation than you have been used to, you should not consider it as just a buzz word. It is the absolute bedrock of a successful team/business. Culture is a 360-degree, organic thing. It is made up of individual and collective behaviours, the myriad of micro-languages used during interactions and conversations, the psychological contracts between employer and employee, the ritual habits that you observe and the ‘brand’ of who you are as a unit. You are not separate from it, you cannot point at it and say ‘that is the culture over there’ – you are immersed in it and the things that you do every day either change or perpetuate the culture you are in. This goes for every member of a team. Culture is partly made up of history – what has been before and that is either changed or perpetuated by you, the team members. The actions and behaviours that you choose to adopt make your culture what it is.
If the culture you have is not working for you then only you (the team) can change it. No excuses! I have heard hundreds of times that, ‘we don’t have time’, ‘it’s not my/our job’, ‘there is too much resistance from above’, etc., etc…THESE ARE ALL EXCUSES! If building a high performing team culture is your goal, then let go of these excuses and start acting – take action!
Recruitment is the critical starting point
The recruitment process is the vital first step in building a high performing team. Now this might seem obvious, but it never fails to amaze me how many organisations still get this wrong. Your business and team may be attacking
innovative thinking and stifling high performance (not to mention morale) through a lack of clarity and communication between the business/team need and the recruitment process.
Before recruiting for your new team (or moving people around internally if re- jigging your existing team) establish the POINT of the team. I cannot emphasise this enough! This really needs some thought – do not just write down a load of corporate words. It is all well and good putting lots of thought and effort into recruiting amazing people who are highly skilled AND have the right mind-set etc., but why are you doing that? What is the point? The first thing is to establish
"Management has a lot to do with answers. Leadership is a function of questions. And the first question for a leader always is: 'Who do we intend to be?' Not 'What are we going to do?' but 'Who do we intend to be?”
Questions to help Establish clarity of your team purpose
Here are a few questions to ask at the very start of your high performing team culture creation journey:
1. Why is this team being set up or the current team being changed?
2. What outcomes are you/the business/the organisation looking for?
3. What difference do you/the team want to make? (Go above and beyond the business/corporate strap lines).
4. Is the purpose desirable and feasible? Is the purpose really needed in the business?
5. Do you believe in it?
Once you have consolidated your own thoughts it would be advantageous for you to take the time to sit down with your team if you already have one in place and discuss the questions above. The answers that you come up with will serve you well as a guide, a road map if you like, to help keep you on track during the journey of creating YOUR high performing team culture.
It is always worth remembering that you should plan for the future not with your mind-set in the current crisis/situation but in the mind-set of how things will be.
Below is an interesting exercise to help you capture some ideas about where you need to be.
The Imagined Future
Imagine you are at a point in the future where you have built your team or achieved all the team improvements that you set out to do. Your team has been identified as a high performing team. All the key performance measures around business performance and people are truly at the top of their game with consistent delivery. Team members are individually and collectively successful and they are also happy.
You are about to deliver a 5-minute presentation to the CEO and Senior Leadership team, summarising in no more than a page of A4 the key ingredients which are at the heart of your high performing team.
What will you say? Take the time now to write this down. As Covey said, “Start with the end in mind”.
Keep these notes. You do not need to over analyse at this stage, it is simply good to have a starting point. As you progress on your journey come back to these initial ideas and adapt them, as necessary. You have created the bones – the skeleton of your idea for success, so now let us put some meat on those bones.
"I have a sense of responsibility to do my best, whether that means being the best mother, the best manager, or the best friend - while understanding that most of us rely on a team to help us succeed."
Marillyn Hewson, Chair, President, and CEO of Lockheed Martin
If you are going to implement the ideas contained in this blog with your own teams then make sure that the basis of what your culture needs to be is in place (or at least in people’s conscious thought) first or you may very well fail. Think about whether you need a free thinking, non-time pressured decision-making culture or does it need to be snappier with a quicker critical decision orientation? Ask things like, what will our culture feel like? What will we see and hear? There are many questions to be asked and the first vital question that the team need to ask is:
What culture (and environment) needs to be in place for the team to create its best results (consistently)?
The next vital question to ask is:
What behaviours/actions will we see when our culture is what it needs to be?
It is important to differentiate between behaviours and thoughts. Behaviours are actions that are measurable, visible, and repeatable.
The next vital questions to ask are:
How diverse is the thinking in the team?
Should the team be diverse in its thinking or not?
In my experience, the answer to the second question is, ‘yes, but the level of it depends’. Some teams need to be more diverse than others, for example teams at Disney Pixar are put together to create new film ideas and it would not be very effective if they were all the same and were constrained in their thinking. Therefore, a wide diversity of thinking and cultural ideas is a key aspect of those teams. Other teams would be more monochrome with less thinking diversity; however, I would say that there are no teams nowadays that do not need diversity of thinking at some level. Teams, no matter what their purpose, are made up of human beings and not robots. A high performing team allows free thinking with open dialogue.
So, diversity of thinking should be encouraged, and the level of diversity all depends on the team purpose.
One important aspect to think about when considering the impact of diversity on your culture is if you have true diversity, i.e. people from different countries, backgrounds, histories, intellectual abilities, difference of thought, and varying individual cultural norms, then everybody will potentially interpret language differently.
It is so essential that you get a shared understanding of what you mean when you establish your culture. This ties in with the previous point about behaviours – if you say that the culture of the team is ‘hard working’ this is too ambiguous. What does it mean?
I have worked with many different cultures over the years and some people’s ideas of ‘working hard’ are quite different to mine. You could create something along the lines of, ‘our culture creates an environment where we put our best effort into getting the job done whilst always supporting other team members if they are struggling. We will consistently hold daily/weekly stand up meetings/calls and check in with each other and the progress of tasks.’ Although that would not necessarily be the finished article it is a good start and much better than simply saying a culture of ‘working hard’.
Once you have considered the all of the above you can really start to think about who you need in the team. Who matches the culture and buys into the vision and purpose? This is about the person and not just the skills they have. Although they are important it is not just about skills and experience when choosing your people. For a team to succeed longer-term it is vital that you recruit the ‘right fit’ to your culture. You can train skill and gain experience, what you cannot do is change a person’s deep-rooted personality – do not waste time and energy trying to.
Teams only succeed through people. Not numbers, not equipment but people.
Never let the numbers, tasks or fancy corporate words hide that fact. The recruitment process needs to be deliberate and robust in who it selects to join a team. This starts with knowing what the team has been/is being set up to do – its purpose, and then establishing a strategy and a set of values that shapes the culture. Until this is done you cannot recruit members to the team.
The above is an extract from the book Team Foundations which will be available very soon. The book draws on the lessons learnt from the past and uses current thinking to categorise the key traits that will continue to make teams successful with sustained high performance in the future. It uses a mix of carefully selected leadership and team tools, real-life stories and visual frameworks will help you analyse your own contributions as either a team-player or leader and will undoubtedly help you create the conditions needed for your team to thrive.
Look out for it on the shelves.
In the meantime - take some time to really consider what your culture needs to be in order for your team/business to be successful.
If the culture isn't what it needs to be then your vision, mission and strategy will never work successfully.
It is challenging work to get a team to a high performing level and then sustain that excellence. There may be tough times, but they will not last forever. Persevere – it is worth it.