Beyond Goals: How to Shape a Work Culture

work cultureBy Laura Huckabee-Jennings, CEO – As a leader, you have more control over the outcomes for your team than you might imagine. Your influence extends beyond just setting the direction and goals for the groups and individuals on your team. One of the most overlooked aspects of leadership is guiding the culture and determining “how” the work will get done. Does your team work independently most of the time, and only come together in review meetings? If so, how do they handle problems or concerns between meetings? Or do they collaborate regularly and often on most tasks? If so, how do they accommodate colleagues who need time to think? You can shape the work culture to guide how your team works.

Set Expectations 

First, realize that you have the responsibility for determining how information flows and how decisions are made in your team. You should communicate how decisions will be made with peer organizations and from your own management team or board. One of your most important jobs is to provide clarity for the entire team as you guide the work culture.

Have you ever thought, “Of course they know what is expected; they are not children!” Even grown adults cannot read your mind. They come to work with a diverse set of perspectives, personalities, and backgrounds. What is obvious to you, isn’t always obvious to others. In fact, it rarely is. Instead of assuming that people can “figure it out,” commit to being clearer about what you expect.

Set the Tone

Is your team’s approach civil, polite, and measured? Or frank, direct, and spontaneous? Clarify the boundaries of how this team will operate to help everyone feel secure in what they can expect. Clarity helps everyone take things less personally. Clear expectations about language, tone, and venue for challenging conversations lets everyone prepare for those interactions, and reduces the possibility for unexpected explosions and hurt feelings. Make this explicit to also make it clear that challenging conversations should be expected — not suppressed or hidden.

Set the Pace

Does your team quickly decide, implement and iterate? Or does it collect data, bring together groups, discuss and plan before deciding? If team members understand how decisions are made, they can also bring forward issues to be decided with a clear understanding of the process and what they might expect. Who makes which kinds of decisions? Which decisions can each member make in their area, and which should come to the team, or even the manager? Be clear about where you expect to be involved, and where you expect decisions to be made without you.

Does your team need to create meticulous drafts, or “rough” ones? Are work products nearly finished before anyone sees them, or is an outline form shared early on before too much work is finished? This impacts how much collaboration takes place, and how much input team members are expected to solicit. Is this different for different projects or products? Team members know how to budget their time when they have clarity early. They can include appropriate checkpoints or feedback requests.

Set Standards

Finally, a high performing team culture starts at the top. You and your peers have a large influence on the behavior of your direct reports. Team members will watch your behavior carefully for cues about what you value and therefore, how they should behave to be successful working with you. If you lead by example, and live by the same standards you expect of others, your words will have more power when you tell people what you expect and why it is important. What are your guiding principles for how you lead? How do you expect people to report progress, bring up concerns, ask for help, resolve disputes? What is unacceptable to you?

As a leader, it is up to you to shape your organization’s work culture. Just as core values help define “why” your team members work, a thoughtfully established and clearly communicated work culture defines “how” the team works. Communicate your expectations clearly and set the tone, pace, and standards for your team to set everyone up for success.

Can you describe your team’s work culture? Feel free to share with us in the comments below.