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Team Culture: What to Aim for and How to Improve

A positive team culture looks like high employee engagement and low turnover. Here are some ways to define and practice your team’s values.

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Team culture: pathway on a mountain going to a single goalBuilding a healthy team culture is crucial to high performance, decision-making, and retention. A strong team culture keeps team members engaged and supported so they can have a positive impact on the business. When a new hire starts with your organization, they may be seeking something that was missing from their previous company culture.

To support consistently strong, positive team culture, it helps to have some steps in  place. This article will explain how to build a great team culture, why it matters, and the signs to look out for when you've achieved a positive team culture.

What is team culture?

Team culture is defined by the core values, initiatives, and behaviors of people working together in a work environment. An encouraging, supportive team culture can be your most powerful ally through tough times, while a less positive team culture can become an obstacle to overcome in itself.

While team culture may seem like an intangible unicorn, there are a few tips to pinning it down. For example, you can easily track your progress with metrics like a Total Motivation (ToMo) score, employee Net Promoter Score (NPS), and Pulse Check-Ins. Regardless of which tools you use, the key is always to examine team culture frequently to understand when things are working and pivot when they’re not.

Take, for example, attitudes towards problem-solving. Not all teams will handle issues the same way, but all teams can work through challenges better with open communication, clear expectations, and positive reinforcement. When team culture is rooted in trust and a solid rapport, your team is more likely to be more forthcoming and collaborative. A strong team culture provides  unlimited potential for the whole organization.

Why is team culture so important?

Team culture: Woman taking minutes of a virtual team meetingSince the pandemic, many employees are considering whether their workplaces can provide a place of psychological safety

They’re looking at whether everyone feels they have the opportunity to connect, especially in remote/hybrid workplaces. They evaluate whether they have good leaders who trust them to work autonomously and who can also provide mentoring and support that makes their lives easier. 

They are weighing the effects of the changes to their workplace environment while they juggle work and home life. 

Organizational cultures too focused on productivity at the cost of mental health can create barriers to teamwork and strong team culture. 

Even high-performing teams get burnt out when they feel like their managers aren't trusting them or when they feel micromanaged. Instead, the aim should be to make team members feel like:

  • Their contributions are valued.
  • They can enjoy the work that they're doing.
  • They can complete their work at a sustainable pace.
  • There’s value in their work and the more significant impact to the whole organization.
  • They’re excited to actively refer more talent to the human resources team.

To gauge how your team is feeling, send regular Remote Pulse Check-ins with Polly. Right away, you can get a snapshot of how the week is going for each person and implement the right support where needed. When you send these at consistent intervals, you can start to see trends over time. If a check-in score is especially low or high, you’ll want to check out what’s causing the change. 

How to build a better team culture in 5 steps

A good team culture won't manifest overnight — it will take some time to relearn relevant and appropriate approaches in the workplace, especially within a remote context. Here are some steps to help you get there:

1. Define your team culture

Think through what strengths have carried the team through its most significant challenges. Have an open discussion about what your team members value most about their work and relationships with their coworkers. 

Ask what support looks like to them and what specific leadership actions help them achieve their goals. Conversely, what behaviors from coworkers create problems for others? Give your team space to give you this feedback. Since your team culture involves the whole team, it's impossible to define it without the input of those people.

2. Adapt practices from others

Ask employees to share their experiences from other companies. It will be impossible to take on all the suggestions, but collectively, you can find the methods that interest the group. 

For example, maybe a team member heard from a friend that their team logs out early on Fridays as a reward for high productivity throughout the week. Entertain and affirm ideas, even if they seem unfamiliar. It shows that you’re open to their ideas and that their input matters. This creates a culture of reciprocity and trust.

3. Clarify goals and celebrate success

Outline your team’s goals in a plain-language statement. Then, whether the team achieves a small or big goal, recognize team performance in a creative way. Whether it’s a small reward like a gift card to someone’s favorite coffee shop or a scoreboard to track goals, it helps to unify the team towards something fun.

4. Give clear expectations

Expectations management is a major guidepost for existing staff and new hires. Be 100% clear, 100% of the time, about workplace policy and expectations regarding what feedback to expect, when you want team members to collaborate, when people should be online and working during the day, and anything else you feel is noteworthy. Then, trust they’ve been understood. 

If employees seem to sidestep clear expectations, have a conversation swiftly so that it doesn't affect the rest of the team. 

5. Invest in team building

When managers intentionally invest in team building, it builds trust, enhances communication, alleviates conflict, and encourages collaboration. This is one of the most beneficial investments you can make — you’ll eventually have a team who shows up, meets expectations, and strives towards a common goal.

Team-building activities can include anything that helps your team bond and enjoy time together — Zoom happy hours, virtual cooking classes, or simple icebreakers before starting a meeting. If you aren’t sure where to start, just create some trivia questions for the team using Polly. 

What are the signs of a strong team culture?

Team culture is more than the ping pong table in the lobby. Influential team culture comes down to how people work together, and it’s more felt than seen. 

The fact that it's intangible brings up the question of how you know if you have a strong team culture. Here are a few indicators:

Great leaders

The best leaders know when to back off and trust that the team knows what to do. Those same leaders are also ready to jump in and lend a hand when their team needs extra support.

High employee engagement

When the team is connected and communicating, it shows up as regularly achieved targets, managed expectations, clear ownership over tasks, and fluid collaboration. 

Strong conflict resolution ability

Wishing conflicts away won't work. Make sure you have tools and processes to defuse and resolve disputes before they grow into long-term issues. 

Whether it’s an internal discrepancy regarding who’s in charge of an account or how to address toxic behavior from a disgruntled employee, employees feel safer when they have access to reliable and discreet processes. For example, Polly can help support a communicative, engaged culture by offering templates for regular check-ins and collecting meeting feedback

Low turnover and talent attraction

With a strong team culture, team members will be proud to stay on the team while also attracting more talent. A recent report by Achievers found that employers with high engagement experience 25% to 59% less turnover. 

A team with high retention rates can mean great things for team culture because it proves that team members want to be a part of and contribute to a happy working environment. It can make a solid first impression for new hires who want to see a future with their new employer.

Model the team culture you want to see

Person in a video call with another personMost leaders know by now that the culture starts with them. Team members will watch how you communicate with team members, manage deadlines, and delegate in order to gauge what’s appropriate and welcomed in the workplace. 

Show the team that you're committed to creating a healthy team culture. Set up an instant free trial with Polly to see how we support a positive team culture.


Try Polly for free to instantly improve your employee engagement.

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