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What is culture?

Within organisations and teams, culture is the major driving force behind outcomes.
There are two complementary sides to how every team gets things done.

  1. How people behave, and
  2. The processes and systems that help us do the work.

The processes and systems aren’t the culture. These are the mechanics of how a team works and they can impact the culture. Our business has these policies, uses these computer systems etc. These things might help facilitate culture, but they aren’t culture.

How you work together is culture.

Simply, how do you behave as a group of people trying to achieve your goal? What is the way we do things around here?

First, you need to look at what behaviours you accept from members of the group?

An easy example – is it ok be on your phone during meetings?

You know how it is. Five people are in a meeting and the person who called the meeting takes the lead. A group discussion starts but one person is tapping away on their phone and misses the key points, or says “I have to do something urgent” and steps to the side, but continues on their phone.

Is that person the team leader? If not, what does the team leader say or do? Or what about the meeting after the meeting? You know, when 10 people are bought into a meeting and everyone gets to air their thoughts on a plan, only to have the two senior managers walk out and meet in an office to “finalise the plan”.

Behaviours of course can be positive. Something like the senior leader who always lends a hand to the staff on the factory floor so they can get home on time or the accountant who answers the external phone and talks to clients when they could easily say “that’s not my job”.

The main point is, are your teams’ behaviours productive or counterproductive?

Once you start thinking about the behaviours your team accepts you must think about why they are accepted? Which behaviours are rewarded? Who are you rewarding in your team? Not just through promotion and career progression, but who’s projects get attention, how much time do you spend with each member?

If the people getting rewarded are exhibiting poor behaviours, what do you think the other team members of your team are going to do?


For example: You run a business that prides itself on providing your customers with the best value products that meet their needs. You’ve just hired 2 people to start your sales team and one of them is pumping through $10,000 in sales per day. The other has started slower and is doing $3,000 in sales per day. Think about how you treat each of these people. Who gets the high fives and the chats about their weekend? Who is being called into meetings to talk about “what’s going wrong”? What happens when you speak to your customers and find out that the higher selling salesperson is getting feedback like “The salesperson didn’t really listen, and I don’t think the product is really right for me”. How you respond will determine your culture. Once your team has a healthy culture, where team members feel valued and are all exhibiting productive behaviours, imagine how they’ll drive the processes and systems that allow your team to go about its work.

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