Developing A Positive Team Culture
I have met with many teams over the years, joined different team meetings and one thing is clear. Teams follow the path of their leader. If the leader plays politics or is disrespectful to others, the team will eventually do the same.
I have been in a team meeting trying to influence that team’s opinion towards a direction I wanted the broader organization to follow, the team members agreed with me and with the support their manager gave me. Then when I spoke to some of the individuals later to follow up on a topic, they blatantly tell me that what they say in a team meeting and what they actually do are two different things. The manager did the same to me.
People rarely succeed unless they are having fun in what they are doing.”
– Dale Carnegie
Backtracking, playing politics and ignoring agreements are strong signs of a malfunctioning team, and a malfunctioning team is bad for everyone involved.
Why Is A Positive Team Culture Important?
This 2006 Harvard study in hospitals specifically targeting heart surgeon performance, shows that their overall performance improved over time when they were able to work with their regular team at their primary hospital. Success was measured in patient mortality.
This means that a well oiled and functioning team perform better and they perform at their peak when there is a positive team culture.
How Do I Develop A Positive Team Culture?
The rest of the skills in this article are essentially focused on creating a positive team culture which in turn leads to a great team. Read on.
Individual commitment to a group effort--that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. --Vince Lombardi
Avoid Politics In Your Team
Believe it or not, the ability to remove politics and game playing from your team is an important skill.
Playing politics is the assertion of power or withholding of information between team members in order to gain advantage, prestige or glory. A high performing team has little to no politics in it. Every team member needs to look out for one another and help each other to succeed. They need to know that you do not play politics and if they do, it will be frowned upon.
How Do I Reduce Team Politics?
It all starts at the beginning of your reign as a team leader. In one of your first team meetings have the agenda point “Ground Rules”. Be clear in your messaging to your team that:
- We as a team do not play politics and it will always be frowned upon
- Backstabbing or talking behind each other’s backs will be taken seriously and is not tolerated.
- Helping other team members to achieve and be successful will be recognized and rewarded throughout the year and during year-end performance reviews.
Promote A Success Mentality
The simple fact is, the reason there is a team is because the amount of work related to a specific function requires more than one person and more than one type of skill. So for that process to function, or the goal of the team to be achieved, all the team members need to work together. The level of success of the team is directly related to how well the team works TOGETHER.
Believe it or not, you will never be a successful manager if you cannot deliver results. You cannot deliver results if your team cannot deliver results.
As the three musketeers once said “its all for one and one for all”.
How Do I Create A Success Mentality In My Team?
As a team leader, you need all team members to clearly understand that the success of the team is based on the success of all individuals.
The Success Of The Team Is Based On The Success Of All Individuals.
Hold a specific team building workshop onsite or offsite. The focus needs to be on activities that require people to work closely together and collaborate to achieve the goal.
Do not make it go-karting or Nerf battles. These are individual competitive events.
I attended a great team building function which was a group cooking course. The 40 people were split into 4 teams and each need needed to create a starter, main and dessert within the required time. At the end of the evening, everyone ate together and shared all the food. It was a truly collaborative and fun event.
Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” -Henry Ford
Support And Protect Your Team
An integral foundation of a well-running team is that they should feel they are operating in a safe space. This means, in your team meetings they can speak openly and honestly. If your team is a pressured environment where they are engaging with customers or other teams or functions in the broader organization there will be times when they come under attack or face criticism. These are the important times where you need to protect the team.
How Do I Support & Protect My Team?
Firstly send the message in your team meeting and in your personal one on one meetings that “If you need help with a problem, face resistance from others or need a barrier broken down come to me”.
How you deal with complaints or external attacks is the key here.
Individual Complaints: If someone complains directly to you about one of your team members conduct or performance, you need to listen to the argument impartially, without siding taking a side. Then you can take the issue up with the individual and share, without emotion, the complaint. You will then need to work through a plan to resolve the issue with the employee. It may be they have made a mistake, but more often than not it is an issue with the perception of the plaintiff. Either way, have an action plan privately with that individual to remedy the situation.
If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” -Albert Einstein
Team Attacks: It certainly can happen that your team comes under attack from people questioning and challenging your team’s existence, what they do or even their value to the company.
Example: During a corporate merger or takeover you are very often faced with a situation where you have multiple teams doing similar tasks. As a team leader this can be stressful because if the teams merge, you could lose your job as two team leaders are often not required. I have faced this many times and actually survived. How?
Firstly as the leader, you need to be constantly evaluating if your team is actually adding value if not, that is your fault and your position is in danger. If they are, you can relax (well almost) in the knowledge that your team is doing great things and will be continuing in the new organizational setup.
In this case, you will still need to shield your team from the discussions and politics you will need to go through during a merger or takeover. Causing them stress by sharing that their future is threatened will only harm their current performance.
You Should Have Your Teams Back -- Always.
Be Polite & Respectful
It can be tempting when you land your first team leader role to let the power go to your head and start to show dominance or authority over your new team members or “show them who is boss”.
To outwardly try to demean or belittle people in a professional environment is deeply disrespectful. Not only that, but other people outside of your team will begin to detest you. No one likes a bully and everyone dislikes someone who preys on the week.
Example: In the most recent corporate merger I was involved in, the two companies merging had radically different corporate cultures. My side of the new company had a very professional talented and respectful culture. The other company (which will remain nameless) had a number of highly colorful distasteful characters and a culture of treating people like numbers. In a high-level face to face session bringing together 40 people from both companies to work out the plans for the coming year, I witnessed one of my peers who now reported to the distasteful character from the other company treated very disrespectfully.
My peer had to present the productivity numbers expectations for the new company, but he did not have enough information to be really specific. His new manager berated him and spoke to him with such disrespect it was very awkward for everyone in the room. This manager could have actually supported his team member in this situation but decided to bury him in front of 38 other people, it was disgusting. After witnessing this, he and I had a very difficult working relationship and I know most of the people in that room disliked him intensely after that.
How Do I Ensure I am Polite And Respectful?
The simplest way to ensure you comply with this skill is to live by the mantra
Do to others as you would want done to you
Everyone has moments where they feel out of their depth and perhaps are not as in control of the situation as they would like. If you demean or belittle them at their moment of weakness you will become a snake in everyone’s eyes and you will not be trusted, respected or even liked. If you ride to their rescue you will be a loved leader.
Show Patience & Understanding
Patience and understanding are not just words they are a mindset that is integrated within politeness and respect.
Not all people operate at the same levels of intensity and achievement. Some people learn faster, some slower. Some people need the same message multiple times until they understand, some people get it immediately.
The art of patience needs to be used for those people who require the extra effort, new members to the team, those less experienced and those who learn a little slower. When you get impatient with someone it shows in your voice and actions and it can be very stressful for the person receiving those signals, this creates a bad working environment.
The key to developing patience is understanding.
How Do I Develop Patience & Understanding?
In any given situation where you are starting to feel impatient practice the following rituals.
- Take a breath before you lose control and consider is it really worth it?
- Take a moment to understand, is the person antagonistically testing your patience or are they genuinely having difficulty with the topic. In either case not lose your cool there are just different ways to handle the situation.
- If someone is testing your patience with their antagonistic actions, you need to be firm and shut the conversation down in public and resume it privately
- If someone is struggling with the situation or task, take the time to help and coach them through. The time is well spent.
Losing your cool head is always the least preferred outcome.
When someone hits a target, delivers a project milestone or otherwise is doing a good job, let them and the team know. It is that simple.
If people are working late to hit a deadline try to understand what they are giving up to do this. They are giving up time with their friends and family. You need to recognize that and appreciate it.
How Do I Show Appreciation?
Obviously, the simplest and probably the most effective way to do it is with a thank you. If you thank them, be sure to explain why you appreciate the work that they are doing and the effort they invested to make it happen.
Other ways to show appreciation is in your performance reviews with them. Also, don’t forget if your team is doing well overall treat them to a team lunch or dinners. I have seen leaders working in companies that have zero budget for team rewards, simply take their team out for dinner or drinks and pay for it out of their own pocket.
Be Positive & Optimistic
Is it so hard to smile and speak with energy and purpose? Apparently, it is. I have seen many leaders who walk around with a miserable face who talk in monotone and fail to even raise a single smile in an interaction with another human. That is extremely soul-sapping for the team they manage.
How Can I Be Positive & Optimistic At Work?
For me is all start with two things.
Smile: Whether you are having a good day or bad, smile when you interact with people. Smile in general and say “hi” to people in the hallways with a smile.
Facial feedback works because the brain senses the flexion of certain facial muscles (like the zygomatic major, which is required to smile) and interprets it as “Oh I must be happy about something.” Similarly, if that muscle isn’t flexed then your brain thinks, “Oh, I must not be happy”.
Speak With Energy & Intonation: Avoid speaking with a flat voice, when you begin to put energy into your voice, you can play with tonality, you begin to accentuate words and you project confidence. Watch this interesting video on voice confidence.
Demonstrate Moral Integrity
Integrity essentially means being consistent with the actions and beliefs. Having moral integrity means you have a set of rules that you live your life by, including how you treat others.
You can only have a strong moral integrity if you understand who you are and what you believe in.
What you believe in influences:
What You Do And Say: helping at homeless shelters, giving to charity, going to church, coaching a kids baseball team, helping your team members succeed, not swearing, not drinking, showing tolerance and acceptance of race, and gender differences
How You Do It And Say It: doing what you do with a smile on your face and with energy, or do you do it because it looks good on the outside. Do you stand up for your beliefs and the right of others to hold different beliefs, or have you become polarized and insular.
When what you say and what you actually do are synchronized and consistent, then you have moral integrity.
How Do I Develop Moral Integrity?
It all starts with what you believe in.
Start by listing down:
- The 10 most important things you believe in
- The 10 characteristics you want to demonstrate every day.
- Print them out and put them on your wall at home and live your life by them.
Be A Conflict Resolver
Do you cause conflict, avoid conflict or try to resolve conflict?
Conflict can take many forms, most common are conflicting opinions and conflicting personalities. The main thing is not to let differences in people values and ideas turn into real conflicts such as wars of worlds or even actions. Conflicts get worse over time if not remediated by the parties themselves or a third party. This will impact the team.
How Can I Resolve Conflict?
Conflict resolution in its simplest sense can be achieved by sitting the people down and helping them understand each other’s point of view and helping them move to a state of agreement or at least the agreement to accept each other’s differences amicably.
If an amicable resolution cannot be achieved you may need to seek a more permanent solution to the conflict like moving a person to another part of the team or even to another team.
As the team leader, you might in your capacity of conflict resolver, need to act as the judge and jury. You may need to hold both parties up to your list of values and determine who is the least good fit and take action to relocate them.
Don’t Just Be A Talker Be A Doer
I was once in the lovely city of Sofia, Bulgaria on a global face to face leadership meeting, when we had a guest speaker enter the conference.
He had quite some responsibility as the global leader of about 1,000 people. He was a super smooth operator with great communication and presentation skills, he had all the answers to all the problems we faced and was extremely upbeat and positive. His organization was facing existential challenges but he had it all under control with a full remediation plan. I was nominated to be his key interface into our organization of 15,000 people and I was genuinely excited to be working with him.
After the presentation, my boss leaned over to me and said to me “What do you think”, I replied, “he is good”. My boss, being the ultimate in moral integrity, surprised me and said: “I think he is a bit of a talker”. This essentially meant he talks the talk but does not walk the walk. He talks a lot but does not actually action anything.
It turned out my boss was correct, I worked with this guy for 6 months and I saw nothing happen at all. As things got worse for his team, he talked and talked but never got anything done, within 12 months 70% of his team were made redundant by orders from the higher management.
How Can I Be A Doer?
Actioning your words and promises are absolutely the keys to success. In my leadership position I was, directly and indirectly, responsible for the actions and work processes of thousands of people, and as you can imagine the number of requests via email and meetings that landed on my desk was huge. In the end, I could not read all the emails, nor action every request. So, what did I do?
I made a list.
I made a list of the most important 10 things I had to achieve to benefit my team, my leadership, and the company. I focused on those actions only. If you can achieve the big things that really matter, then most of the other stuff just falls by the wayside. Achieve the big things and you are a DOER, not just a talker.
No matter how carefully you hire staff your team will always have a few folks who simply are not achieving their potential, or even meeting your minimum requirements. This can be because they do not have the skills, experience or they may be completely out of their depth.
As the team leader, it is important to recognize those people and come to their assistance.
If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else. – Booker T. Washington
How Can I Help Under Achievers In My Team?
Give them more of your time: I explained in-depth in the article on “One On One Meetings” that people who are struggling need more focus from you, that starts with more regular personal meeting time with you. If you meet every two weeks, change it to weekly or even twice per week. You can specifically guide and coach them and help them define the path they need to take.
Give them more of other people’s time: Assign them a working partner within the team to help them with their project. That does not mean do the work for them but help them with direction and organization.
Get them to create a self-development plan: You as the team leader are not responsible for a person’s development plan, they are. Make sure the is one in place and that the plan will help them overcome their current difficulties.
Get them specialist training: Support their development plan by working to get the training they need, we all need external help from professional trainers, so make it happen.
If they continue to struggle for a long period and they simply do not have or cannot develop the skills needed, you will need to consider if they would be better in a different role or different team. If so, do not just abandon them, help them find a better role by understanding what they want to do, and asking around your network for anything suitable.
A poor match in your team, might be a high achiever in another team.
It took me a while to work this out and I learned this from my staff in our year-end performance reviews. When I asked for 360-degree feedback about myself and my performance, many people said that I was such a great communicator. When I probed further, they meant I spoke at a steady rhythm and that I spoke very clearly and pronounced.
This is an important skill I stumbled upon. You see I am English, in fact from a place in middle England called Warwickshire. In this part of the U.K., we do not have a strong regional accent, in fact, it is a relatively posh accent. If you want to hear my voice check out my podcast.
This means that when I spoke on Skype or in video conferences every nationality had a chance of understanding me. In fact, I always take the effort to spell out clearly important points.
If your team are non-native English speakers, you really need to take your time and be clear when you are talking.
Use Visuals For Important Points
When I want to get an important point across I always use a visual. A visual is a graphical representation of the key points you are trying to make. The visual side of the brain is a lot more receptive than the audio receptors. As they say “a picture paints a thousand words” and this is as true in remote team meetings as it is in an art exhibition.
How Should I Use Visual Aids?
Important points warrant pulling up a PowerPoint presentation or dragging out a whiteboard. But even in team meetings, it is simply worth sharing the meeting agenda and minutes so that the audience can see (even if they join late) what the topic is, and who the actions belong to.
Remember, when using visuals do not use a lot of text, use images.
Build Trust With What You Say & Do
If you say you will follow up on a topic after the meeting, do it. If you fail to do what you say, soon your words just become worthless and that means your character and leadership is worthless.
What you say and how you say it is extremely important. Here is my quick guide to what to say and not say.
What Not To Say And Do In A Team Meeting
- Never sound impatient
- Never, Never, NEVER RAISE YOUR VOICE
- Never dismiss someone out of hand
- Never demean anyone’s opinion
- Never cut someone short (unless they simply cannot stop talking)
- Never lie. Your team knows when you are lying, covering up for the company, or being dishonest. Honesty is, after all, a truly defining factor. If you genuinely cannot talk about a company sensitive topic, simply say you cannot discuss it, but never lie.
What Positive Things You Can Say In A Team Meeting?
- When someone has success no matter how small, be positive
- Encourage people to talk openly and share their challenges with the team
- Encourage people to ask for help, that is what a team is for, to help each other
- Celebrate a birthday, work anniversaries or the birth of a new child
- When someone takes a new action or responsibility thank them wholeheartedly, it will encourage others to take on more work.
You would not believe how your team hangs on your words and the way you intone your voice. Be honest, firm and treat others with respect and it will work out.
Micromanagement is the scourge of high performing teams. It is also very difficult to do with a virtual team spread out across different locations. So do not try to do it. Do not focus on the task, focus on the goal. This means you have to develop very clear and simple goals that are tied to your assigned business objectives. Therefore, their goals are also your goals.
Become Goal Focused By Assigning SMART Goals
Honestly, I have heard the S.M.A.R.T. goals mantra so many times over my career it makes me cringe.
However, there is a lot of sense to this. SMART goals refer to:
Set a maximum of 3 or 4 big goals for the year per person, this will enable them to be focused.
Measurable -- set a number on the goal.
- Dollars in new sales generated
- Customer Satisfaction Feedback Above 8
- How many doughnuts you can fit in your mouth at once 🙂
They need to be able to actually achieve the goal. If you set the bar too high they will be stressed out all year and ultimately fail
Here is where the HR-speak breaks down. If it is not Realistic how would it be Achievable in the previous A. Come on seriously it should read SMAT goals, not SMART goals.
Finally, we have time-based goals. This simply means there needs to be a date for the goals to be achieved.
So now we have our SMAT goals we can move on.
Have Regular One On One Meetings
Holding a great One On One meeting means you will have a highly motivated and energized employee. Repeat the process over and over again with your employees to have a high performing team.
What Is A One On One Meeting?
A “one on one” meeting, also known as a “one to one” (121 meeting) is a way for a manager or team leader to stay personally and professionally connected to a team member. It is also a great way for the team member to stay connected to their manager.
In my experience, an average or poor manager will neglect to have regular one on one meetings because they are “too busy” or they have more important priorities.
If you want to be an average leader of an average team, then ignore One on One meetings at your peril
Run A Great Team Meeting
Your team meetings need to be weekly. If you leave it any longer, you will be jeopardizing the wellbeing of the team. People need to get together, it gives them a feeling of belonging.
How Do I Run A Great Team Meeting?
In my experience the ideal one-hour team meeting consists of the following:
- Review of the Agenda & New Topics -- 5 Minutes
- 3 Main Topics -- 10 minutes per topic
- Round Table -- Highlights where each team member can provide an update or request for help
- Managers Corner -- You highlight any business/organizational developments, or new requests to the team -- 10 Minutes
If you have an urgent topic or need input on a strategic decision it is acceptable to dominate the meeting with your own topic. Why, because you are seeking to amass the brainpower and support of your team on a major pivot point. They will love you for consulting with them on it.
The time for the team to speak is very important and it should be given priority.
So many managers go into their team meeting and talk for one hour without letting anyone else contribute. If you do that, your team hates you. You don’t know it, because you are too busy listening to the sound of your own voice, but it’s a fact.
Be prepared to talk in team meetings. Establish the rule that they will need to provide the team an update in every team meeting. This not only gets them prepared to have something to say, which improves participation, but it also gets them to think about what they have achieved or what problems they have faced since the last team meeting.
Engage Your Team Members
Here is the problem. An insecure manager is reluctant to engage their team in a group setting because they are worried they may lose the argument or seem not to be the thought leader in the discussion.
How Do I Engage My Team?
A great manager who wants to harness the group think of a team of talented individuals will enter the conversation by stating the problem and asking for ideas to help resolve the problem or even improve the solution to a problem.
You see if you are a manager that is so full of ego that you go into every conversation with all the answers without at least posing a question to gain additional perspectives, then you will fail, plain and simple.
Show Your Funny Side
If you have a gram of humor in you, use it. I have seen so many managers who are so straight you could use them to correct a slanted picture frame. It is painful when it is all business.
Do not be afraid to self-deprecate. For non-native English speakers, that means, feel free to make fun of yourself. If you are the first to see the humor in your own failings then no-one else has a chance.
Always Be Available
Ensure your team knows you are always available to talk and that they should not leave their only interaction with you until their bi-weekly One On One session. If you are not available a team member may get slowed down with a problem that you could help with. This slows them down and slows down the ultimate achievement of the goal.
How To Make Yourself Available?
Start by sitting with your team, don’t separate yourself, I once visited our office in Slovakia to find all the managers sitting on one floor and one corner away from their teams, that does not make sense.
If you do have your own office leave the door open and make sure your office is near the team.
When you go to grab a coffee, go with someone, use that time to chat with someone whether business or pleasure.
Have lunch with the team, or with individuals.
Getting tired of being stuck in the office? Go for a walk, take someone you need to talk to and go for a walk for 30 minutes and discuss in the open air. I do this all the time. It seems strange at first, but you come back refreshed and invigorated like you just took a break.
Never Show Favorites
So many teams breakdown and become dysfunctional because of one thing.
The boss has a favorite clique.
I have seen it so many times. You know if you have a few favorites in the team. They are the ones you always go to lunch with, they are the ones you always go for a beer after work with. They are the ones you always go for your smoke break or coffee break with. This also goes for remote teams. Just because you are not there in person you can still demonstrate your favorites by giving them the best new assignments, by overly singing their praises or taking their side against others in the team. Be mindful of overtly having favorites as your team will notice it and it will breed resentment.
How Can I Avoid Favoritism?
The best way to avoid this is to mindfully spread your time across the team, coffee breaks, lunches and walking meetings.
Also, when new assignments arise, offer the assignment out to the team, in the team meeting and see who wants to take it.
Don’t take sides in a disagreement, move to conflict resolution mode.
Choose Your Next Leader Or Leaders
Any good manager or leader will have a succession plan in place. If you are good at what you do then the next promotion could be around the corner. If you are offered another assignment and your answer is “I cannot take it there is none who can replace me”, then you are letting yourself down.
How Can I Select The Next Team Leader?
You can start by rotating who is your “back up” or “stand in” when you are on vacation. This means when you are out of office this person will attend your meetings and take on your responsibilities. This demonstrates to the team that you do not play favorites, and everyone gets a chance to prove themselves. Over time you can see who can handle your job the best.
The last but probably most important item on this list is how you handle successes. If you manage a high performing team that has serious business objectives, then you will need to report out to senior management monthly or quarterly on your progress against those objectives.
Where your team is not meeting their targets or goals, then you are responsible. Take it on the chin, ultimately failure within the team is your fault. Your team will respect you for it.
If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. – Isaac Newton
When your team delivers a significant milestone or achieve a goal, do not take credit alone, you must ensure to personally thank in public the person or people who delivered it. No matter how much you helped them deliver the result, deflect the kudos to them. Your team will love you for this. It is the golden rule of truly great leadership.
24 Skills Of A Great Team Leaders -- Cheat Sheet Download
How To Be A Great Team Leader Cheat Sheet Contents
|Rule||How To Achieve It?|
|Avoid Politics In Your Team||Set Ground Rules|
|Promote A Success Mentality|
|Hold a team building workshop onsite or offsite. The focus needs to be on activities that require people to work closely together and collaborate to achieve the goal.|
|Support And Protect Your Team|
|Send the message in your team meeting and in your personal one on one meetings that “If you need help with a problem, face resistance from others or need a barrier broken down come to me”.|
|Be Polite & Respectful|
|Do to others as you would want done to you|
|Show Patience & Understanding|
|Be Positive & Optimistic|
|Smile: Whether you are having a good day or bad, smile when you interact with people. Smile in general and say “hi” to people in the hallways with a smile.|
Speak With Energy & Intonation: Avoid speaking with a flat voice, when you begin to put energy into your voice, you can play with tonality, you begin to accentuate words and you project confidence.
|Demonstrate Moral Integrity||Start by listing down:|
|Be A Conflict Resolver|
|This can be achieved by sitting the people down and helping them understand each other’s point of view and helping them move to a state of agreement or at least the agreement to accept each other’s differences amicably.|
|Don’t Just Be A Talker Be A Doer|
Achieve the big things and you are a DOER, not just a talker.
|If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else|
|Use Visuals For Important Points|
|Build Trust With What You Say & Do|
|Be Goal Oriented Not Task Oriented|
|Have Regular One On One Meetings|
|Run A Great Team Meeting|
|Engage Your Team Members|
|Show Your Funny Side|
|Do not be afraid to self-deprecate. For non-native English speakers, that means, feel free make fun of yourself. If you are the first to see the humor in your own failings then no-one else has a chance.|
|Always Be Available|
|Never Show Favorites|
|Choose Your Next Leader Or Leaders|
|Share or rotate the deputy role across the team|
|You Take The Blame For Failure & Share The Glory Of Success|
Well, I hope these best practices have been useful if you liked it share it with friends or leave a comment.