Creating a Culture of Effectiveness
A “Simple” Definition
My working definition of a company (or team) culture is deceptively simple. So much so that I get a few blank stares when I share it with clients. From my perspective, culture is simply how the work gets done.
Analyzing culture is not a complex process. You just need to pay attention to how the work gets done. For example — Is information shared freely across functional areas? Is the typical approach to work collaborative – or lone-ranger style? Do people easily reach out and ask for help? Or share ideas routinely? Is management involved (or even aware) who really works on what tasks and objectives?
Are the company mission and values talked about regularly? Do people know them and use them as a guide for their daily interactions and work? Safety is one prime example. Are people working safely? When others watch you can they see the values lived out in your daily work? Are individual and collective milestones celebrated when they are achieved? Big accomplishments? Small, incremental victories?
Culture is impacted by the relevance, accuracy, and timeliness of information being shared. Are you data rich as a company? Data poor? Somewhere in between? Is information shared at an appropriate level internally? With all the key stakeholders? Does it drive accountability, or fuel blame and excuses?
Another “Simple” Definition
All of these questions speak to culture, and all are indicators of a culture that’s either alive and breathing at a workplace – or not.
Your culture may be vibrant, or fun, or quiet, or traditional – but for a business to survive and grow, it must also be EFFECTIVE. Before I go further, I’ll share another beautifully brief definition – this one courtesy of merriam-webster.com.
Effective — things that do what they are intended to do.
Every organization’s culture is different. And it either breeds and supports success, numbs it, or kills it. What is yours doing? You can read this as a rhetorical statement or really ask yourself if your culture is doing what it needs to for success. A thriving culture of effectiveness will consistently stand out in three areas — relationships, structure, and accountability/performance. Let’s look at them with your workplace or organization in mind.
The quickest way to check the quality of the relationships in your team or company is to ask one simple question:
How are we working together as a team?
The “trick” here is – you need to ask everybody this. And then actively listen to the answers you get! They will differ and also consist of repeated patterns. Everything in life and business gets done through relationship. How we relate to each other and how we relate to our work makes all the difference. Effective leaders participate in building shared agreement on how you need to relate to both.
I can tell how healthy a culture is by just observing the work getting done and the interaction between employees and staff at any level. When you see people leaving work with a teammate still struggling to get their workload done, you begin to wonder if teamwork really is a part of the culture. Effectiveness within a culture shows up when everyone is relating to each other and sharing the burden for results and outcomes. Sometimes it is simply helping someone else finish up for the day.
The other interesting place to observe relationships is in meetings. Notice if there are no meetings or too many meetings. How people treat each other during the meeting. The participation of everyone with each other and with the team lead or owner. If everyone is talking over each other or ignoring the contributions of one person, I see signs of a culture that is not respecting each other as much as they could. Team and work meetings are the microculture of the larger microculture. Take a hard look at how you meet if you want to create a culture of effectiveness.
Regardless of how the decision-making happens in a team or company, and how the implementation of those decisions gets rolled out – you need to ask another simple question:
How well is the work getting done?
You’ll need to use the same “trick” here – ask everybody (or someone at each representative level or role) – and then really listen to what they tell you. It’s really hard to hold a team accountable if you don’t explain what your level of expectations are and what will satisfy the goals outlined for the company, project, or day-to-day work. Structure is important and can be a foundational reason why “good people” can’t perform to the best level. Look at how you have structured your business and team to address the longer- and shorter-term vision of the business. Do you have adequate capacity for leaders and managers to manage, supervise, coach, and develop people?
The key question in this area is a tough one – but it cannot be avoided if effectiveness is truly your goal:
Do the team members deliver the necessary growth and contributions required to achieve the results you are committed to achieve?
This brings to mind several critical factors – everyone needs to understand exactly what is expected of them; their contributions need to be measurable (and regularly measured); and all must be held accountable for achieving the goals that were established. Accountability can break down in the beginning, middle, or end of any project or part of any business. The sources of failure in performance are rooted in poor goal construction and insufficient (or lacking) conversations.
What you talk about has a greater likelihood to get done. Many cultures are built on “mind reading” skills. Managers and owners expect people to intuitively know what is important and needs attention. That’s simply wrong and easily fixed. Start talking more about what you want and why. You will get better as you engage with people from a place of good intentions and clarity.
A Final Note on Culture
Culture can be what makes your company unique. People are attracted to a business by its culture, and they stay because of it. It can be carefully and artfully orchestrated, or it can be unintentionally and haphazardly formed. However it comes to be, the culture of an effective company or team should reflect certain important characteristics.
- Alignment – everyone pulling together in the right direction. You need to make this a priority and do whatever it takes to make it happen.
- Appreciation and Acknowledgment – the consistent practice of thankfulness for the contributions of others. Acknowledgement has the largest ROI for anything you will ever do within your business or role as a leader. It costs you nothing to give and you have everything to gain.
- Integrity – a powerful propensity to do the right thing (even when it’s hard or unpopular). You will have some tough things show up in this area, like letting high performers go because they treat other people contrary to your values. Integrity is best thought of like a bridge — when it weakens the culture falls into ruin.
I’ve taken you on a quick journey through a few simple definitions today! Understanding them is not difficult. Living them can be – however, doing so day in and day out will create an effective culture to work and thrive in.