Whether the team be in business, sports or alike when things go wrong culture is one of the key factors most often highlighted as the root problem. But when things go well it’s more often overlooked when pointing out the fundamental reasons behind a team’s success. This is because good culture is like the foundations of a building; it does arguably the most important job despite not being seen or noticed. But if it’s broken, everything else will fall apart.
How do you get a great team culture then?
The timeless benefit of any successful team is the people behind it. You need the right people in place and the wrong people out. In a publicly viewed team such as a sports team it is the signings of new people coming into the team that are seen to improve things, but in many cases it’s the people outgoing that will have the most positive impact on the remaining team.
In recruitment one thing that I still find bizarre is the idea that talent equals skills. Skills make up talent, but they are not the full package. There is an endless barrage from recruiters and industry professionals talking about talent and skills as one. Any company that hires people for skills and ignores the personality, motivations and values of those employees will have cultural problems. Sure, they might get lucky on occasion, but nobody is perfect. Everyone has faults. But if you want a great team culture the individual’s values, personality and motivations for wanting to be there must be aligned with the company’s best interests.
Yes, skills are important but when making hiring and firing decisions the priority should be placed on values, motivations and personality fit just above skills. And I’m not saying a huge gap. Skills are vital because without them it is all very well having someone who tries hard and gives their all, but if they are incapable, they will be more of a hindrance than a benefit. The point being is that you can train on skills. People can improve here and there. But changing someone’s value’s, motivations and personality; yeah good luck with that.
Company Values, Standards and Expectations
It is important you understand what your company stands for. Often the personality of a company’s founder or leader is ingrained on the business. And it should be. People need to understand and feel what the company is about, what it stands for and why it exists. And this doesn’t mean fabricating some baloney that sounds good. Most great companies, like people, will have odd quirks and strange traits that to outsider’s sound simply weird. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had a desk made from an old door despite being a multi-billionaire. They’d even give a tongue in cheek award for performance that was a miniature version of this desk. On the surface and from a direct perspective these quirks and traits will have no impact on performance numbers. No algorithm or analyst could calculate any benefit. But that’s because culture doesn’t have a measurable benefit per se.
To get to the calculable benefits you need the right foundations to work upon. Those foundations are the culture. Culture simply means; how we do things around here. This means the Values, Standards and Expectations if you want to break it down.
This is what you stand for and why you do what you do. Think of a passionate political activist standing up in defiance for what they believe. It could be for equality, equal rights or awareness of a fundamental cause. But they whole heartedly believe in what they are standing for. The leadership and certainly the influential individuals in a business must believe in the companies’ values. There should be no compromise on this. This sounds challenging, but where companies can go wrong is when they hire people that believe in the company values and then feel it necessary to move the goalposts on those values in order to modernise or improve their standing. This is highly risky and, unless the company is on the rocks without something changing, should be avoided.
Manipulating or fabricating values on the surface in order to keep the peace will only work short term. This is because there will inevitably be challenges or problems where a leader’s real values and true colours will show through. How many large companies talk about values in their marketing, yet when they have the opportunity to breach those values, are only too quick to show their true colours? And then wonder why they start losing customers, begin issuing profit warnings and have staff retention issues. It’s all linked either directly or indirectly.
Values should be set in stone and upheld even if it causes short term financial or results based issues. Customers and employees will then see that the company stands for something. There have been countless occasions of customer loyalty and staff commitment during tough times because the company honours those values. There is a human purpose there that wins over those who believe in those values.
Setting out standards and enforcing them is of paramount importance. And again, this cannot be compromised on. That being said, there are two key things to remember when it comes to standards that must be adhered to.
Firstly, these standards must be reasonable and realistic. What is asked of people shouldn’t be anything that the leader asking it wouldn’t do themselves. This should be hours of work, dress code if applicable, cleanliness, process and procedures, presentation and alike. The instance a standard is broken or not respected it should be challenged and corrected by the manager responsible. Immediate action should be taken. Otherwise the standards will not be respected, and it will create problems.
The second thing to remember is that any manager, team leader, director or whoever is accountable for enforcing those standards, must follow them themselves without exception. Too often in companies it’s a matter of “don’t practice what you preach” and that is unacceptable.
High expectations should be bestowed upon people. This may differ person to person dependent on their level. However, expectations should be set at what is considered the benchmark for either promotion or the top 10% of performers in their category. How you coach, motivate or communicate those expectations can again differ person to person. For example, some people will need to be pushed more as their buttons to reach their potential may need more force. With others they may need faith, belief and support to reach their expectations.
Expectations should be considered as a performance metric, but you could also consider them as an example to set for less experienced team members especially for those given leadership positions regardless of their seniority.
This is broken into hierarchical organisation, the people and the supporting factors.
People in any position of responsibility must care about doing their job to the best of their abilities, but equally must care about who they are responsible for. That care for the people needs to be accountability to make sure that they do their jobs to the best of their ability, but that those people are looked after on a personal level too. Positions of leadership are for those who want to be responsible, not for those who just want power. Would you rather work for someone who cares about you or who cares about themselves?
Dependent on the size of the team any manager should never have more than 7 direct reports. In larger businesses this may be an MD with 7 board heads who each have subsequent department senior managers below and who in turn have middle managers reporting to them. The flow trickles down following the same pattern. Psychologically the number 7 is the limit to which we can recall numbers and be effective for a team. In smaller teams a manager may have a couple of trusted Lieutenants who can help share the responsibility. Ideally, try to keep teams to less than 7 so not to be right on the limit.
You need a group of people who share the same values, motivations and who have complimentary personality traits. Put simply, they get on pretty well. Add to that something often overlooked; they want to be there.
How many people have you worked with who are there because they have to or because they need to be? I.E “I need to pay the bills and that’s the only reason why I am here” or “It’s not ideal, but I have to have a job”. How is anyone who doesn’t want to be there going to benefit your team? Their direct input will be the bare minimum and the moment your back is turned they’ll time waste. But their indirect impact could be even worse. How will it look to other team members? Anyone who cares and wants to do a good job will immediately dislike this person and it will cause negativity within that team.
You get what you pay for. And I know a lot of business owners will say that they cannot afford to pay top dollar, but when they have a modest sized business yet still live in a big house, have regular luxury holidays, drive an expensive car and generally live well I question their priorities. You need to invest to accumulate. Investing in your business is the obvious choice. If people are the lifeblood of any business, and they are, you need to pay well to get the best people you can for your money.
Consistency doesn’t just relate to consistent results. It also relates to consistent process, consistent standards, consistent expectations and consistent behaviours. If you’re a customer and you do three transactions with a supplier who delivers a different method and timescale for each, it doesn’t inspire confidence.
Imagine going into McDonalds. You know you need to order your food first. And you know what the food will taste like and how it will be presented. You know what the design and look of the restaurant will look like. You know roughly how long it takes between ordering and receiving your food. What would happen though if you turned up at a different McDonalds that served a different menu, the décor looked more like a pub and it took half an hour to get your food. How would you feel about that? It wouldn’t be the McDonalds experience would it. That’s why you need consistency throughout your team. People will know what is expected and things begin to work as second nature. There is a routine.
People will need tools to help them do their job. By tools this doesn’t necessarily mean a hammer and a screwdriver. This could be software, hardware or related electronics. If you scrimp on substandard kit, you are taking unnecessary risks. Understandably a small business may not be able to afford the best of everything, but again it should be able to afford what is needed to do the job. Too many businesses operate systems and use equipment that is unreliable and unfit for purpose because they see it as an easy cost cutting area. If you are trying to do your job and are hindered by substandard tools necessary to do it, it’s frustrating at times and costly at others. Provide your team with the tools needed to do a good job. Simple.
To get a great team culture you need the right people in and the wrong people out. The right people are those who firstly share the company’s values, want to be there and get on with those in their team. Wrong people should be fired or managed out with urgency. The wrong people are those who don’t really want to be there. It’s those who cause negativity, resentment and unhealthy conflict. Get them out and do it fast.
You also need people who will follow standards and expectations. These standards should only be what is deemed reasonable and realistic by the person setting them. They should be enforced with professional, but attentive action.
Be prepared to pay well to get good people. You get what you pay for. Demand good consistency across the board from results, process and behaviours. Get a routine that works and make it the norm. Finally, ensure your team has the tools they need to do their jobs properly. You won’t break any land speed records with a reasonably priced car after all.
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