by Crunch Tech

How to cultivate great culture within your team

Talented people rank having a ‘great culture’ highly when evaluating potential employers. It can serve as a useful barometer to whether they’ll be happy and supported to thrive in their role.

Successful businesses also understand that having a great culture leads to better performance, staff retention, and attracts top talent. However, you can’t buy great culture and neither is it sustainable to force it from the top-down, or via HR alone. The good news is that it doesn’t need to cost money and is genuinely attainable. The bad news is that it takes time, can’t be achieved alone, and isn’t easily quantifiable.

Building positive culture at the department or team level serves you well in reducing the impact of other challenges that may fall outside your influence. This is also where most people can make an impact, so I’ll focus on this in this article.

An indicator that good culture has been established within a team is when its members are motivated to seek new ways of improving culture themselves, forming a nice virtuous circle. However, this Promised Land can seem distant — so here are some pointers to start cultivating that mindset.

1. Give people freedom and they’ll innovate, impress, and surprise

Micro-management is unnecessary if you’ve hired the right people. Almost everyone wants to do a good job when they turn up to work each day — so let them.

As a manager, relinquishing control, visibility, and dare I say, some credit for a team’s actions can feel unnerving. But by ensuring those closest to the product have sufficient autonomy, workers become committed team members who are motivated to solve problems it’s possible you’re not even aware of. Seeing the achievements (and consequent recognition) of team members you’ve enabled to thrive brings a very wholesome satisfaction.

The importance of allowing people the freedom and time to think shouldn’t be underestimated.

2. Encourage broader thinking

Teams are more engaged if they’ve played a part in shaping their surroundings, processes, and the principles they advocate.

Making decisions on the team’s behalf, whether big or small, is likely to result in the team feeling less accountable for outcomes — be it quality, hitting deadlines, or customer satisfaction.

Where possible, distribute ownership or seek the team’s involvement in the following:

  • The recruitment strategy and interview process
  • Mentoring, irrespective of function / seniority
  • Evolving any formalised processes the team adheres to
  • Producing a Manifesto that outlines the teams North Star principles (perfect for hanging on the walls or an induction pack)

3. You succeed or you learn

A team inspired to be brave in trying new techniques and technologies (or setting themselves bold goals) can achieve successes that a cautious team can’t. Being part of a brave team brings an energy that’s hard to beat.

By definition being brave has a degree of risk attached that most teams will avoid unless it’s been acknowledged and accepted by some form of seniority. Gaining this acceptance can be easier if there’s confidence in a review process designed to draw learning from an incident and heed how to prevent the same or a similar incident reoccurring.

4. Sharing & transparency

At a business level, introducing a forum to share client feedback, sales performance, notable successes or failures can help form a Community and allow individuals to see how their personal efforts contribute to the success of the business.

This level of transparency might be uncomfortable when the business is underperforming, but if you’ve hired good, conscientious people, then holding back information may be more damaging. It can also help build empathy for an unpopular but necessary directive that requires the team to go against their preferred approach.

At a team level, encouraging members to share amongst themselves and shout about their achievements is also a great way for their efforts to be recognised. Possible forums are blogs and internal/external talks on challenges faced or newly acquired knowledge, or departmental updates.

5. Keep things fun

Employee happiness isn’t the top priority for most companies, but it’s worth remembering that ‘‘happy team members are productive team members’’. Besides, being serious all the time is exhausting for anyone.

Don’t fret when team members talk off-topic, encourage it even. Understanding each other’s personalities, motivation, and sense of humour will bond a team far beyond one that simply acknowledges each other’s R&R’s. It’ll make those unavoidable ‘difficult conversations’ far easier if they’ve developed a shared trust.

Other ways to achieve a happier environment include encouraging face-to-face communication, leaders being considered approachable, and team-wall space being seen as fair-game for Big Visible Charts, Team Manifesto’s, Definition of Done etc.

In conclusion, investing in team culture attracts and retains the talented people that are essential for your team or even business to thrive. Take a moment to consider if you’re doing enough to champion a positive culture in your team, and reassess the true cost of that action you know doesn’t put culture ‘front and centre’.

Written by Jamie Hollis - Developer, turned Scrum Master, turned Development Manager.