Establishing team culture to promote collaboration and innovation
6 min read
Team culture seems to be a hot phrase for hiring. Companies are scrambling to differentiate themselves by offering benefits ranging from free food to dogs in the office to unlimited PTO. All these company perks may scream fun and games, but what about getting actual work done?
Whether you’re building a brand-new team or improving a current one, positive team culture is an essential aspect of gaining new talent and running a successful business. No one is an island; people spend their days on teams, moving between groups of all shapes and sizes.
So what exactly is team culture? How can we shape it to drive progress?
Team culture is nearly the same as company culture, just more specific to the people on teams instead of the environment they work in. According to Prototypr, team culture is “made up of the values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours shared by a team. It’s how people work together towards a common goal and how they treat each other.”
OK, so it’s about the “who” and the “how.” We’ve all heard about offices being like families, all ideas being important, and employees being valuable no matter what. These makes sense, since companies must employ team members that can work well together, remain ahead of the competition, and feel happy enough to stay year after year. When you look closely enough, collaboration and innovation are the two pillars of maintaining forward progress and keeping employees happy.
So how can you craft a team culture around these two things?
Collaboration is the embodiment of company values. Concepts like a “culture of we” are the driving force behind successful collaboration; employees must be confident that their daily work and interactions are supported by an overarching company philosophy. How you structure and operate your teams will either nourish the relationship you have with your employees or erode it.
1. Unify teams around a common goal, not a single person
Teams should operate with a single, unified vision: move the company forward. This can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but the core message is unmistakable and provides a common thread for teams to work from. If teams become structured around a single person or interrupted by ego, teamwork breaks down and the company journey can stall.
2. Create diversity
Diversity and inclusion are vital to companies of any size. To ensure your teams are diverse, awareness is required throughout the hiring process. People of every kind have value, and their combined perspectives provide balance in discussions and create a community where workers feel safe to be themselves.
3. Encourage disagreement—and mistakes
Team dynamics require a delicate balance. On one hand, people who agree all the time are not productive, since no one drives the conversation forward. On the other hand, teams who disagree all the time just end up going in circles, not making progress either. So how can you ensure your team fits somewhere in-between?
Well, it turns out disruption is necessary, up to a certain point. Employees should to aim to collaborate until the collaboration stands in the way of progress. They need to feel free to express opinions and move conversations forward, but always company progress top-of-mind. For their part, businesses should encourage healthy discourse and avoid penalizing simple mistakes; mistakes are evidence of engagement, effort, and progress.
Innovation relies on employees being confident in company values. Teams that work well together are usually a balance of creative and technical, and they iterate faster.
Continuously creating something new can be taxing for even the most creative employees. A good big-picture strategy can reduce pressure on these key team players, allowing for unexpected contributions and paving the way toward long-term success.
1. Don’t settle for the status quo
This applies to your business and the work it does. Don’t let team members settle during discussions, and don’t settle as a business. Employees should be encouraged to ask why, challenge institutionalized norms, and push in new directions. Companies should do their part by investing in cutting-edge technology, soliciting and acting on employee feedback, and staying open-minded. Employees who feel free to express unusual ideas are one step closer to the next big money-maker.
2. Use the valleys
Market demand drives innovation. Traditionally, this is primarily during peak work times. When RFP’s come in and the whole team dashes to prepare a response, employees can feel immense pressure, days can be hectic, and there’s seemingly never enough time. It’s more important than ever to produce fresh ideas and turn them into a compelling offering. While some team members work well under pressure, consider this: there’s tremendous value in innovating when ideas are not in high demand—in a “valley.”
The key here is timing: Valleys restructure your offering automatically, turning you into a market leader. When you innovate in a valley, you’re not just one of many companies acting in response to an immediate demand—you’re ahead of the pack, driving with an idea that you can roll out on your terms. Encourage your team members to see valleys as opportunities and don’t reprimand them for preferring to create in quiet instead of chaos.
3. Be patient and bide your time
No matter when your best idea strikes, it’s always possible that your target customer and audience aren’t quite ready yet. You may be early! It’s vital that you think long-term and stay patient, which you can do more easily with a few key strategies in mind:
Be tenacious. Do what you can to stay on the front end. Don’t write your idea off (or let someone else) until you’ve exhausted all possible angles and truly decided that now won’t work.
Store your ideas properly. A lot of companies don’t have the appetite for long leads, but if you believe in your ideas, create a structure that allows you to return to them when the time is right.
Stay aware. Revolutionary ideas are worth nothing if you can’t present them to the right audience at the right time. Keep your business and its employees aware of the market so you know when to re-enter and don’t miss your chance.
Teams are made of people, and people are dynamic and growth-oriented. To promote collaboration and innovation, businesses should remain aware and open to new ideas (especially from new hires) about how to keep their company culture successful. Team dynamics require long-term thinking and flexibility during times of change. With the proper attitude and a strategic plan in place, team culture can be your company’s biggest asset.
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