Have you heard of the scientific principle of entropy? In layman’s terms, entropy says “The universe tends towards chaos.” We see very tangible examples of entropy every day: iron rusts, plastic degrades (given enough time), cars breaking down, etc. Once something is created, it will eventually break down. In a way, the word “maintenance” exists to combat the effects of entropy.
After spending several thousand hours with couples in a counseling office, working with hundreds of teams on development retreats, and leading my own team, I believe the principle of entropy is alive and well in relationships and cultures as well. If proper “maintenance” isn’t maintained, relationships break down, team cohesion erodes, the actual culture deviates from the stated culture.
I am sure you have felt the effects of this. Miss a few date nights with your spouse and a feeling of disconnect creeps in. Skip a few oil changes and the engine catches fire or freezes. If patterns of maintenance are not established, team culture erodes and breaks down.
It can look like:
- Low employee engagement
- Reduced team member well-being
- Declining feeling of “belonging”
- Higher turnover
- Lower productivity
How to Combat Entropy & Build Order for Your Team
1. Determine with intentionality
Team culture simply is the sum total of consistent behaviors. What behaviors does your team display? How do team members interact in meetings, around the proverbial “water cooler,” when working on projects? Do they interact during non-business hours or have group texts?
As a leader, you can shape the team culture by identifying key values and desired outcomes of your team culture. A great resource to spark thinking can be found in this article by the Nobl Academy.
Assess your current team culture:
- What are 5 words to describe your current team culture?
- What outcomes does this culture produce for your team?
- What are 5 words to describe desired team culture?
- What outcomes would be true for your team if your desired culture was reality?
2. Align intentions and behaviors
Author and speaker Andy Stanley says in his book The Principle of the Path, “Direction, not intention, determines our destination.” After much thought and discernment, you may arrive at clear intent. Clear values and understanding of your desired culture and the outcomes it would produce for your team.
Intent alone does not change the culture. How often have we scoffed at the poster in the break room proclaiming the organization’s values? We think to ourselves how out of touch leadership must be and “if they only knew how things really worked.”
Culture is created through consistent behaviors. Identifying the key behaviors that shape the desired culture is key!
Determine the desired culture:
- What are 2-3 key behaviors that would produce the desired culture?
- How do these behaviors apply in various team contexts (meetings, project work, different communication channels, etc)?
- What current behaviors disrupt or are counter to the desired culture?
3. Invest in modeling the behaviors
Management guru Peter Drucker stated, “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” What does action look like for you? I will share an example to provide a few tangible examples.
As a new team leader, I have taken the time to assess what our team culture actually is. Referencing the Nobl article, we are predominantly an Elephant Herd team. This insight is invaluable for me in determining how we work together and shape our team culture accordingly.
Three descriptors of our team culture: Supportive, Purpose-Driven, Learners.
What I would see:
- Supportive: We willingly share our time to help others get the best outcomes possible.
- Purpose-Driven: Personal ownership to find the best ways to embody our values and enact our mission.
- Learners: We engage in active experimentation, reflection, and feedback to learn and improve ourselves and our services.
What am I doing to model these?
- Supportive: Investing in a team retreat to build personal relationships amongst the team and foster genuine and personal care. Regular one-on-ones with each team member that are geared toward their agenda and how I can support them personally and professionally.
- Purpose-Driven: Working with the team to establish a clear purpose for our team and work. Inviting input on defining “success” for our team and identifying the metrics for that success. Consistently speaking towards our purpose and working to identify the unique contributions each team member brings to accomplishing that purpose.
- Learners: Equipping team members with developmental resources, taking an annual 360 review from my team, regularly seeking feedback on my leadership, establishing weekly team time dedicated to studying and discussing various topics.
When I assess my leadership and ask “what are the maintenance behaviors that I need to ensure happen,” these are part of the list. Consistently and regularly modeled and communicated, begin to share the team’s understanding and practice of our preferred culture. Ultimately, I believe these will produce an environment where my team thrives. Each experiences a sense of belonging, personal ownership, and responsibility for their role and team health and produces experiences that positively impact the lives of our participants.
Determine how to shape the culture:
- What will you do daily to model and promote the desired culture?
- What will you do weekly?
- What will you do quarterly?
- What will you do annually?
If you are looking for a way to kick start your team’s culture by creating a common understanding of what is important and expected, or perhaps you want a space to explore and identify what those are with your team, I encourage you to invest in a team retreat. The regular practice of time together, intentional discussion, and a shared fun experience is a gold mine of unique insights into the people on your team and its culture. We practice it regularly! Check out our retreat options here.