Leadership Retreats Resources

Leveraging Culture with Strategy—a Game Changer

May 9, 2016
Team's Toolkit

Team strategy and team culture – which is more important?

To answer this question, I love quoting the late Peter Drucker: “culture eats strategy for lunch!” This is not to say strategy is not important, it is the plan after all. But if strategy is the “what”, then culture is the “how.” The way we go about doing something makes all the difference in the world when we are trying to implement strategy. Oftentimes, people designate strategy and culture as an organizational issue; however, the reality is that each team within an organization sets its own strategy and creates its own culture. The great thing is that each team decides on its own culture.

Team culture is developed from a team agreeing (whether formally or informally) to interact in the same way; this creates a strong culture. A weak culture is the result of the chaos of individuals doing things however they like, without the team in mind. For example, a culture that values team members’ time may make it a cultural norm that all members show up to meetings at least 5 minutes early. They may also assign a timekeeper to make sure all meetings finish on schedule. A weak culture may have team members showing up at various times, some five minutes early, some five minutes late. This weak-cultured team may get through all the meeting agenda, or they may use up the entire meeting on one agenda item (not necessarily the most important).  In both these scenarios, the team espouses the value of team members’ time. However, in a strong culture, everyone knows and does the same thing; in a weaker example, the focus is on the preference of the individual and their own interpretation of valuing team members’ time.

Now let’s say a team has a really good strategy; but because of a weak culture the team meetings don’t help them implement the strategy. This proves that culture outweighs strategy every time.  Weak culture is the culprit as to why so many great ideas and plans never take off. Conversely, a weak strategy done well within a strong culture will at least produce measurable results.

You may ask, “So what can be affected by culture?”  Answer: Our beliefs, processes, and attitudes.

Our Beliefs:  Our beliefs inform our behaviors (the end result of our collective culture). We do things because of what we truly believe. Usually our values direct our beliefs. It is important for the team to establish values and mold their beliefs by learning and modeling. If I value accountability, I may believe that work only gets done when the team member is held accountable (this could be based on learning research). Based on this belief, I may prefer having weekly project check-ins with my team mates with expected deliverables.

Our Processes:  Process is the step-by-step procedure or course to get from here to there. A process can be put into place for anything: answering the phone, running a meeting, communicating changes, following up with a client, billing, etc. The most important question to ask is: “Does everyone know the process?” Oftentimes, having the team (rather than an individual) come up with the process results in greater acceptance. Processes inform action and define acceptable behavior within a team. A strong culture has established processes that inform behavior.

Our Attitudes:  Attitude is a choice; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It may be a hard choice, but we can choose to either accept reality or ignore it. The problem is that a poor attitude is a reality that negatively effects a culture. The best way to keep attitude in check is to check in with team members and listen and address concerns. A weak culture is made up of poor attitudes that breed even more poor attitudes. A strong culture, however, establishes expectations (in the form of acceptable behaviors) and never allows discontent to brew.

At WinShape Teams, we strive to improve a team’s culture by providing the tools and training to create a culture of “teammanship.” By emphasizing new ways to celebrate your team’s success as well as your people effectively, solve problems together, and trust one another, we are introducing new behaviors that can change the world of a team.

What are you doing to improve the culture on your team? This week, determine whether you have a weak culture or a strong one. If you have a weak culture, decide whether your belief, processes, or attitude is the main culprit and make steps to change it. Don’t forget to get the team together and make the decision collectively.

by Ricky Escobar