Actually, yes. Research says it does. The 2016 AON Best Employers research showed the 100% of the top employers rate their strong team culture and high levels of employee engagement as a core competitive advantage.

But why is that? Why is culture so important?

Firstly, let’s examine what we mean by culture. At Leading Teams, we define culture as ‘the way we do things around here’. It’s the accepted norms, behaviours and practices. And it’s the ‘accepted’ part of those that mean culture can be both productive and not. We can all aspire to great team culture, and have lots of policies written down that specify what a great culture we theoretically have, but the truth remains that if unproductive behaviours go unchallenged, your desired culture cannot overcome them.

Team culture: woman sitting at a reception desk in a big office

How your customers are received is a big part of your service

Here’s an example. Imagine for a moment that you work in a bank. One of your stated values is ‘great customer service’. I am one of those customers, and when I walk into your branch I’m left standing, unattended, for five minutes, while three members of your staff carry on a conversation with each other. Is that great customer service? No. It may be written on the wall but if it’s not delivered in practice then it’s not your team culture.

So what should you do?

Well, in an ideal world, one of those three members of staff would have realised what was going on, broken up the conversation, reminded their colleagues of their obligation to the customer, and come over to see me. In that case, great customer service would have been delivered in practice. The customer (me) would have been satisfied, and the staff could have taken pride in a job well done.

If it was a really great culture, someone else from within the bank would have observed that behaviour and gone to those members of staff and congratulated them on living their values. By rewarding the behaviours we want to see, we encourage the repetition of them.

Are you ready for the challenge?

The flip side of that is that you must challenge unproductive behaviours when you see them. So any other member of staff in that bank should have felt safe enough to challenge the three chatters and remind them of their commitment to their values or ‘trademark’ behaviours. More than that, even, they should have felt that it was their obligation to do so; our founder, Ray, always says that ‘doing nothing is a powerful choice’. Your team culture is defined by the behaviours you walk past; if every member of your team doesn’t feel empowered to challenge every other member against those behaviours, then they aren’t truly the foundations of your culture.

In a world in which strong employer brands and high performance cultures are valued as a competitive advantage, we absolutely should be investing time and effort into our people and our relationships. Without them, we have no culture and without that, we have no future.

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Caroline Reid

Caroline Reid

Caroline worked for Leading Teams from 2016-2018.