Creating the right culture for high performance - tips to get started
What do I mean by culture? It is one of those words that gets banded around a lot, especially in the corporate world. Why?
Well, it is the absolute bedrock and foundation of a successful team/business. Culture is a 360-degree, organic thing. You are not separate from it, you cannot point at it and say ‘that is the culture’ – you are immersed in it and the things that you do every day either change or perpetuate the culture you are in. There are numerous key elements that align for a team to be truly successful and high performing. Building a successful culture in a team is the critical first step. The link between culture and team traits is a forever moving symbiotic relationship. With this in mind, if you are going to implement new ideas with your team to become high performing 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.
To build a culture from new is probably easier than if you already have an existing culture that needs to change. There is a fantastic model that I have used to facilitate discussions around culture creation within a team and that is the Drexler and Sibbet Team Performance Model. I recommend this highly – look it up.
If you already have a culture that isn’t conducive to high performance, then you will need to strip it back and re-build it in a systematic way. This is the whole unfreeze, change and re-freeze idea. This takes time and you will meet resistance. People get used to what they know and rarely like change. The most powerful thing that a team can do is talk. Talk about why they exist, what do they do, what values underpin what they do, what drives each individual (honestly – not just mindlessly spouting the corporate line) and what success looks and feels like for every member of the team. It is also important to ask whether people are genuinely happy. These types of conversations can be difficult to get going but I have found that once a team realises that everyone is human and that it is a safe environment, they open up more and start talking honestly. A good way to open up a conversation is to use the exercise below.
Ask each member of the team to write down the answers to the previous questions (why does the team exist? What do they do? what values underpin what they do? What drives them individual? What does success look and feel like to them? Are they happy?). Now invite each person to write down three words or short phrases that they think sum them up. This is just high level and doesn’t need to be war and peace. For example, someone might write ‘I care – I like to know people are ok’, I am stubborn, I get anxious about meetings etc. These thoughts must be how you really feel you are and not what you want other people to think you are.
So, at this stage, each team member will have their own piece of paper with answers to the questions and three things that summarise how they feel they are and how they come across to others). Now, everyone put that piece of paper away – keep it safe, you will come back to it in a bit.
Here comes the more challenging bit – ask every team member to write down three words or short phrases that sum up each other person in the team. Put one word or phrase on a single Post-it so you will end up with three Post-its per team member (you can do more if you wish). Again, be completely honest – how do they really come across to you?
Now get the team to hand the Post-its out to the respective team members. You will probably get a mixture of laughing (nervous and genuine humour), gasps, smiles, frowns and the odd expletive! Let everyone read and absorb the comments/words and ask them to also categorise them. If people have put the same or similar, then put these Post-its together. Now ask them to take out the piece of paper with their own thought scribbled on and look at how well their own words and phrases correlate with what the rest of the team have said about them. Have two piles of Post-its (keep this high level and simple) – pile one consists of the Post-its from others that match (or are very close to) what you have said about yourself. Pile two consists of the Post-its from others that do not match how you feel about yourself/see yourself.
Open a team discussion. Initially it may be useful to let people ask individuals to clarify what they mean and to expand on their Post-it points.
Ask other team members questions like; what makes me seem that way to you? What actions do you observe in me that make you feel that way? How does this impact you and make you feel? What impact do you think my actions have on the team dynamic? This can be a long session but let it run. Keep it professional and if it seems to be getting a bit heated take a break. The aim of this is to find out how you actually come across to others and the impact that you have. This transparent and open approach is vital if the team are to succeed together.
Now come back to the initial questions (why does the team exist? What do they do? what values underpin what they do? What drives them individual? What does success look and feel like to them? Are they happy?) and openly discuss all of these as a whole team. Look for correlation and discrepancies. You will see that there will be areas that people agree on and others that are further apart. For the team to be successful you need to bridge those gaps. For example, the reason that the team exists or what success looks like are different to different people then how do you formulate a strategy and plan to get there?
You will hopefully see quite quickly the dynamic change as this discussion progresses. People become more animated, involved and sometimes more emotional. This is all good – let it happen and don’t fight it.
This is just the starting point - more to follow...