BLOG ARTICLE
Last updated: 16.07.20

A guide to team culture

Remote working is having a big impact on teams and managers and is presenting us with an exciting opportunity to consider aspects of managing in a new light.

We’ve recently explored virtual team building and performance management, and here we focus on team culture – what it is, how to create it and how it looks in a remote team.

What is team culture?

Team culture is tightly linked to company culture. Both are difficult to define as they are hard to grasp and are often unwritten. Ultimately, though, they’re about the people, and the dynamics between them. They are about how they treat each other, and how they work together for a common goal, and both are made up of the values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours which are shared by the people.

As the name suggests, the company culture encompasses the entire company, whereas a team culture will be specific to a team. Team cultures can differ within a company, but usually they will be linked to the company culture. One feeds into another – if you have a toxic company culture, it’ll be hard to create a positive team culture, as there will be too much conflict between them.

They aren’t easy or straightforward to develop. They take time to build and require constant input. Many people think that all that is required are fun things or objects – a ping pong table, some bean bag chairs. But it is so much more than that. If a company or team had those, but they were still run by toxic attitudes and behaviours, the team still wouldn’t benefit or thrive.

What is a positive team culture and why is it important?

It might be best to answer this question by talking about what makes a toxic culture. Signs of a toxic culture include a lack of community, no laughter, jokes or smiles; interactions which are overly formal; a great concern for job titles, people’s place in the company, power and how to get it; the feeling that you aren’t allowed to speak up if you are struggling or face a challenge; no recognition of achievements, and a lot of fear.

If a team is governed by fear or disinterest – the team won’t function properly. People will be demotivated, they won’t push themselves or try and think outside the box, and, overall, people will wonder if it’s worth it, and as a result the business may suffer too.

Instead the values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours need to be positive, such as an interest in fellow team members, a desire to succeed together and collaborate, and a clear common goal. A positive team culture provides the space to question, and gives the team members the confidence to create, and challenge themselves. It allows trust to develop, and people to feel good about themselves and thrive. As you can imagine, this is also great for the business.

Overall, if the people feel valued and are treated well, they will be happy in their job, and will be unlikely to want to move on. For this reason, it is also greatly linked to loyalty to a company.

How do you create a positive team culture?

If a positive team culture isn’t created by purchasing ping pong tables, what sort of things are required? We have outlined ten examples below, which we have also turned into a handy graphic for you.

Honesty

If you want to start developing or thinking about your team culture, you need to take the time to identify where you are now, what sort of culture you currently have and where you want to be. What do you want to change? Are there any points of friction in the team you want to solve? Thinking about your team honestly will help your ideas be genuine and sincere, which is important otherwise your team members will see right through them.

Take ownership

It is important to take ownership. Own your ideas, but don’t just talk about them, take the necessary action to bring them to life. But involve your team as well, and make them part of the decisions, the drive and the action. This will help stretch and flex your leadership skills too!

Diversity

Team culture depends on the people, and diversity is key – different ages, races, genders, perspectives, personalities, strengths and weaknesses. This diversity, and the different perspectives it will provide, adds strength and value to a team.

Value teamwork

A good team culture should embrace, celebrate and encourage teamwork. Make it one of your values, but, again, don’t just talk about it. Implement it and demonstrate regularly.

Encourage collaboration

Collaboration is an important part of fostering a healthy work environment and helps your team to develop together. There should be a sense of excitement about working together, and they should be able to work together without feeling they want to sabotage each other.

Communicate

There needs to be a foundation of communication, and it is important that it is open. Open communication helps a team feel supported, but it can be hard, and efforts can easily be thwarted if the right approach isn’t taken. It is all about how you interact and communicate, for example ensuring that feedback is constructive, that supportive language is used, and recognition and thanks are given when needed.

Hold regular meetings and activities

These will help the team feel comfortable with each other. If someone is anxious in another’s company, it’ll reflect in their work, and those who aren’t connected to each other can become overly competitive and withdraw. But regular meetings and activities should hopefully help overcome these feelings.

Listen and observe

The team culture should support your team, so you need to be aware of your employees’ needs. Therefore, listen to, and consider, their views, opinions, and suggestions. This will also help you be aware of changes that may need to be made.

Demonstrate

You need to regularly demonstrate your commitment to the team, which will help shape the culture. This links back to the need to be genuine and sincere. Creating a team culture isn’t a tick box exercise, it needs to be lived.

Support

Overall, support is an important part of team culture. You need to listen, communicate and encourage, as well as give your team the space to grow and develop. Show them you have faith by assigning them serious team goals – something to get their teeth into – and allow them to make their own decisions. You don’t need to micromanage, but show that you are there if they need guidance.

Team culture and remote teams

But how does this change when it comes to remote teams?

To be honest, it doesn’t change much. All the elements above are still required for a team culture in a remote team, and are still possible. But you must be aware that remote working makes things less visible. Everything requires a bit more effort, trust and communication. So, aspects such as team engagement, communication and team building may feel more challenging, but they are not impossible. If you approach those challenges with honesty, authenticity and involve your team in the solutions, then you’ll find the team culture will start to come together.

Here at Virtual College we are passionate about learning and learners. We recognise that work lives have gone through a monumental shift this year, and we want to offer support, guidance and reassurance. Along with posts and resources like this one, we have been busy creating online courses to help managers and their teams through the adjustment. If you want to learn more, have a look at our Leading and Managing Remote Teams Training Package, or if you wish to find out more about team culture, we have a course filled with hints and tips.

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