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What is Team Culture? 4 Myths Busted
By: Michelle Bennett on Sep 5, 2022 5:00:00 AM
Between looming deadlines, targets to be achieved, and expectations to be met, the last thing that may be on your mind is team culture. However, you may be surprised to learn that your team’s culture should move up on your priority list. Here’s why.
As Peter Drucker famously stated, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”He wasn’t claiming that a solid strategy is unimportant; he was trying to highlight the importance of team culture. He means that no matter how solid your strategy may be unless you have the right culture, it will not succeed.
Research backs this up, as it was found in the 2022 Culture Report from Quantum Workplace that 70% of employees and leaders say culture is more critical to business success than strategy.
Despite the importance of culture, there are many misunderstandings of what it exactly is. This article will clarify what team culture is (and isn’t) and dispel the most common myths.
What is Team Culture?
Team culture is how a group works together to get things done. It’s the totality of the behaviors and attitudes of the team and can be witnessed in the way they think, act, and interact with each other.
4 Myths About Team Culture, Busted
Given that team culture can be challenging to define and is not something tangible, there are many myths and misconceptions about it. Here are four of the most common myths about team culture debunked.
Team culture is influenced by perks at work
Thanks to the many news stories about the perks of working for a tech company, there is a misconception that benefits and culture go hand in hand. From their cafeterias with free meals to fancy coffee bars and modern work environments, there is a myth that culture comes from providing perks at work. However, given that the culture, whether on a team, within a department, or across the entire organization, is defined by individuals' collective attitudes and behaviors, these perks are not what makes up culture.
This was proven by a study conducted by Google, which offers some of the most fantastic employee perks. In their multi-year research study on high-performing teams, the number one influence on team performance was how individuals behaved and interacted with each other, in other words, the culture of the team.
They found that the best teams created a culture where they felt safe to be vulnerable and take risks and trusted each other to be accountable for their contributions to the team. The modern work environment of free lunches did not influence the culture or performance; it was the individual's behaviors.
Team culture is an HR problem
While culture efforts are often spearheaded by HR, and they play a critical role in assessing and crafting the desired culture, it is a myth that culture is owned by HR and HR alone, leaving team leaders off the hook.
In fact, one 2022 research study asked respondents, “Who is responsible for creating and shaping your culture?” The top two positions were occupied by leaders (#1) and managers (#2), with HR coming in third. Given these results, the significant influence team leaders have on shaping the culture cannot be dismissed; therefore, culture cannot be delegated to HR alone.
In addition, a 2021 HBR article highlighted the critical role middle managers, those in team leadership roles, played in forming culture by:
- Ensuring the tools, environment, and intangible aspects of employees’ day-to-day work life aligned with the desired culture
- Applying the cultural objectives, strategies, and critical results to the context of their group or function
- Conducting coaching and training with employees to cultivate the desired culture
- Communicating and role-modeling the desired culture
Team culture is harder to nurture when working remotely
With the rise of remote work, whether out of necessity due to the pandemic or by a strategic choice, leaders are often concerned that remote work will negatively impact team culture and cohesion.
Yet, the myth that team culture cannot thrive when working remotely was recently dispelled in an article Heidi Grant and Tal Goldhamer co-authored. They stated, "People often recall fond memories of attending social and community events away from their desks, but then fall victim to a kind of halo effect, believing that because the experience was fun and rewarding, it must also have been impactful in lots of other ways. Such events can be visible and memorable opportunities to celebrate a culture, sure. However, they certainly aren’t where culture is built."
As we noted in the definition of team culture, it is the sum total of the attitudes and behaviors of team members and the way they get things done. When remote teams are equipped with the right tools that facilitate collaboration and connection, the principles of building a positive team culture remain unchanged. No matter if the team is in the same office or from all corners of the world, culture is created through a focus on nurturing the desired behaviors that propel your team forward and create the right environment that team members want to be a part of.
A positive team culture can only be achieved when it is free of conflict
When there is a conflict in a team, it’s a common belief that behavior should be rectified in order to achieve a positive team culture. While relationship conflicts, where team memebers clash over personalities, can have a negative impact, conflict arising around the direction or task completion of a team has been found to produce debate, leading to better decisions.
Ron Friedman, a psychologist and behavior change expert, explains why some conflicts can be good for team culture. He said, “Healthy debate encourages group members to think more deeply, scrutinize alternatives, and avoid premature consensus. While many of us view conflict as unpleasant, the experience of open deliberation can actually energize employees by providing them with better strategies for doing their job. Workplaces that avoid disagreements in an effort to maintain group harmony are doing themselves a disservice. Far better to create an environment in which thoughtful debate is encouraged.”
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