DiBona & Associates
DiBona & Associates

How to Create a Positive Team Culture

04.08.22 03:00 PM By Noel DiBona

A positive work culture unleashes tremendous energy. A positive work culture will unite critical teams toward the attainment of shared goals. 

In contrast, a dysfunctional culture cripples an organization’s productive output and drives good people to quit. 

And what leaders say and do communicates what behaviors are permitted. Over time, these behaviors establish the norm of how people interact with each other. These accepted norms translate into a shared set of values, goals, attitudes, and practices. That is the definition of culture.

How do toxic environments impact your team?
Employees ask:
Is it ok to ask questions, speak up, and challenge others or will I be shamed or criticized?
When these needs are unmet:
Productivity dives. Employees disengage. Poor decisions are made.

Employees ask:
Are people being rude to me? Do my co-workers gossip? Am I treated with respect?
When these needs are unmet:
Good people quit. Absenteeism increases. More HR complaints. The company suffers damage to their brand.

Employees ask:
Why does work seem so cliquish? Am I treated with fairness?
When these needs are unmet:
Difficult to attract and retain the right talent. Potential litigation. Discrimination complaints. Employer’s reputation gets tarnished.

Employees ask:
Can I grow my career here? Does my boss coach me? Does my boss give me feedback? Am I getting the right assignments?
When these needs are unmet:
Failure to attract younger staff. Higher turnover.

Step #1 – Be approachable
Being in a leadership role makes you seem more intimidating that how you see yourself. When people feel intimidated, they tend to shut down. Of course, there are no absolutes. One thing is for sure, people are less likely to speak up or disagree with the boss. Some more than others depending on their perception of how approachable you are.

Here are some ways to improve your approachability.
      • Check your body language. Are you coming across as being happy, frustrated, or checked out? Show people you are listening to them by giving them your undivided attention. Be present.
      • Give your teammates the opportunity to voice their opinions. 
      • Ask open-ended questions to understand others’ point of view. 
      • When people realize you may not have all the answers, you make it safe for them to answer questions. 
      • Actively invite and take the initiative to get your teammates to engage. 

Step #2 – Don’t minimize your authority
Some leaders want to minimize their own authority in an attempt to be more accepted by their team. This is a mistake. These leaders tend to allow people to hijack meeting agendas. They will avoid making the tough decisions. They want to be supportive and take the wrong approach of not holding their team accountable. Their feedback is often understated and the opportunity to learn from mistakes is lost.

Here are some ways to preserve your authority and eliminate confusion on the team.
      • Provide your team with clarity about where you stand on important issues.
      • Clearly state your most important expectations – we call these the “non-negotiables.” This holds your team accountable.
      • Don’t let problems linger. Your teammate’s problems can be hellish for them, so have some compassion. Take a stand and don’t let them sink in the mud dealing with a bad situation.
      • Keep meetings on point, and productive. Don’t waste people’s time. 
      • Own your power as a leader and use it responsibly. 

Step #3 – Get rid of rude, difficult high performers
Toxic employees break down teams. When you allow rude, difficult high performers to spew their nastiness because they otherwise do great work, you are creating big problems for your team. The other team members will be spending their time dealing with the toxic employee, gossiping, or avoiding them. Allowing this to happen means you condone this behavior. And, in addition, this toxic employee undermines the team’s culture.

Here are some ways to safeguard your team
      • Be visible and check-in often with your teammates; conduct regular 20-minute check-ins. Understand your team dynamic.
      • Demonstrate through your personal behavior the importance of how each other is treated. All teammates have an obligation to support the needs of the team in a positive way. Coercion, disrespect, untruthfulness is not allowed on the team.
      • Provide honest feedback to anyone that is inappropriate in their actions toward others. Make sure they understand how their behavior breaks the team.
      • If the toxic individual is too far damaged or won’t refrain from their rude and difficult behaviors, it’s time to let them go.

Step #4 – Use anonymous pulse surveys to get an accurate understanding of how your teammates feel.
There are six important drivers of employee engagement that we use to determine the effectiveness of an organization’s culture. When all these drivers are satisfied, you will have confirmation that your culture is on target. When they are not, you will be able to understand where the breakdown is and fix it. We like to create a baseline survey and then take another survey about every 120 days. 

The reason these pulse surveys are so important is that you need real feedback. When the leader asks questions, they get the answers they are looking for. Leaders fall into the trap of confirming beliefs that are fundamentally wrong. Everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid.

You need honest feedback that challenges your assumptions, beliefs, and your own perceptions. As a leader, you need this feedback to steer the ship in the right direction. 

Here are some additional ways to obtain feedback from your team
      • Share any criticism from an individual with the entire team and let the team know your solution to the problem.
      • Coach your team how to have healthy debate. See the positive side of conflict by making it safe and productive. Create a culture of healthy disagreement where nothing is off limits.
      • In meetings, seek out the reserved opinions that are not being voiced. This is a good way to get the opposition or doubtfulness to new ideas on the table for healthy debate.

Step #5 – Look at each day as a new beginning.
Your daily minute-by-minute behavior is being carefully scrutinized by your teammates. What you did yesterday, doesn’t count today. The trust you gained yesterday, doesn’t mean it still exists today. Your actions and decisions are what matters most. Remember that every interaction you have with a teammate can strengthen or weaken the culture of your team. Be aware of your behaviors, words, and actions. This is what creates the culture of your team whether you know it or not. 

Some final thoughts to consider.
The human system is complex and difficult to understand. Many leaders put the human system side of things to the end of the to-do list or in the too-difficult-to-do category. DiBona & Associates uses a scientific approach to break down difficult people problems into actionable and manageable solutions. We provide a comprehensive roadmap to understand where the issues are and how to address them. We provide advisory, consulting, or full implementation services to individuals, teams, and organizations. We approach our work from an operations management point of view. We are not an HR advisory firm. Our methods are practical and simple to implement. Let us help you decode behavioral issues that may be holding you, your team, or your organization back from achieving The Top Ten Percent.