How To Build Team Culture at Your Company

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Saphia Lanier
Saphia Lanier

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What comes to mind when you hear of team culture? A Ping-Pong table, bottomless coffee, Andy Warhol-inspired pop art, or Karaoke Thursdays at the office?

How to build team culture

While these perks are great and represent part of what your employees care about, they’re not a substitute for strong team culture. A healthy team culture gives your employees purpose, while also aligning them to work toward accomplishing company goals. 

What is team culture?

Team culture is a combination of shared beliefs, values, common goals, attitudes, and behavioral norms among employees who work at a company. Like a society’s culture, team culture is supported by individual members and defines and shapes the work environment.

In an interview with Time magazine, Cynt Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, said, “The key thing is the behaviors and attitudes that people have about the workplace, about each other, about how they treat people, about how they make decisions, about acceptable behavior in the workplaces.”

While putting together a strong team is important, building a winning team culture takes time and effort and is critical to your company’s success.

Why is team culture important?

A recent report from MIT Sloan Management Review found that toxic culture is 10.4 times more likely to push employees out the door than a nontoxic work environment, leaving businesses struggling.

Here are a few reasons you should strive to build a healthy company culture in your company:

  • Employee retention: As mentioned above, team culture impacts employee retention as it determines whether you’ll attract top talent or lose your best workers.
  • Higher engagement and productivity: When employees are excited about your team culture, they’re more likely to be engaged. Gallup found employee engagement leads to improved business outcomes, including 14% higher employee productivity and 23% greater profitability.
  • Fewer interpersonal conflicts: A good team culture promotes cohesiveness among employees and has conflict-resolution safeguards to reduce friction so everyone feels welcome and valued.

After Sports Illustrated’s exposé on the internal abuse and harassment in the Dallas Mavericks organization, billionaire Mark Cuban — who owns the team — knew he had a culture problem.

Cuban believed only a strong and well-aligned team culture could consistently lead to the organization’s success. So he hired Marshall to run the Mavericks and fix its corrosive culture. Within 100 days, Marshall turned around the team’s culture, leading the organization through an unprecedented, turbulent moment.

Team culture examples

If you’re looking for inspiration for your team culture, here are a couple of examples of brands with enviable company cultures.

Studocu

Studocu — an edtech platform — boasts a positive team culture with a family-like atmosphere focusing on the fun and social aspects of building a company together.

“We always have lunch all together, share our learnings and best practices of the week on Fridays, after which we end the week together with a drink,” says Marnix Broer, co-founder and CEO of Studocu.

To maintain this team culture and ensure its team excels, Studocu:

  • Holds team-building activities, such as social events, celebrations, hackathons, and an annual company wide trip
  • Has a continuous (360) feedback system to give and receive feedback all year round 
  • Offers generous Learning & Development (L&D) budgets
  • Distributes ownership and authority to employees to execute good, data-backed ideas
  • Created an open environment for continuous learning from successes and mistakes
  • Embedded “company fit” into its hiring process so new team members feel welcome and fit into their new teams

Because of these efforts, the Studocu team graded “Teamwork & Ownership” with 82% in the company’s last engagement survey.

Warby Parker

Designer eyewear brand Warby Parker’s team culture prioritizes employee growth, team engagement, open communication, and emotional connections. Several factors contribute to its successful culture, such as:

  • An inclusive employee training and onboarding process: Team members from different levels and departments ensure each employee feels valued and comfortable. This promotes cross-team collaboration, fosters strong relationships, and builds a closely knit team.
  • Peer-to-peer relationships: Existing employees reach out and connect with new hires to create opportunities for introductions and spark conversations for easier integration into the team.
  • Leveraging the company’s mission: Warby Parker’s mission creates a shared sense of purpose among employees and attracts like-minded individuals with a shared commitment to its values.
  • Open and honest communication: Warby Parker’s feedback culture conducted through quarterly 360 reviews creates a transparent and supportive environment for employee development and continuous learning.
  • Embracing vulnerability and connection: By introducing new hires during all-hands meetings, Warby Parker encourages trust, openness, and collaboration while building strong relationships and a sense of unity.

How to build team culture at your company

So how can you build an effective team culture? Here are five key strategies to help you get there.

1. Build and live core values

Part of what makes your team culture unique is what you bring to the table — including your core values.

Instead of picking or imposing values as a leadership team, hold a team brainstorming event and co-create with your employees on cultural values they believe in. Depending on the stage your company is at, this can mean rethinking, redefining, or building new values altogether. You’ll automatically gain buy-in and increase team morale.

When Marshall joined the Mavericks team, there were no values for workers to operate under. To fix this, she:

  • Laid out a vision for the organization and a set of values.
  • Spent time one on one with people.
  • Came up with a 100-day culture cleanup plan.
  • Laid out a workplace promise.

Marshall held one-on-one meetings with each Maverick employee to get to know them better. She also helped her team embrace the 100-day culture transformation initiative, which involved:

  • Modeling zero tolerance or setting up the infrastructure for it while focusing on compliance and speak-up culture, where employees feel safe to voice their concerns.
  • Developing a playbook on empowering and educating women.
  • Implementing cultural transformation initiatives, such as a disability equity and inclusion agenda around Mavericks’ customers, suppliers, donors, and broader community.
  • Conducting basic operational effectiveness performance reviews and providing market-based compensation.

Not only did Mavericks employees rally around Marshall’s initiative, but also within those 100 days, she had diversified her leadership team to 50% women and 50% people of color.

2. Invest in a DEI/DI&B program

A diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) or diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DI&B) program ensures your team members feel like they belong. According to a PWC survey, 81% of C-suite and board members whose organizations adapted during the covid-19 pandemic say their culture has been a source of competitive advantage.

McKinsey’s “The State of Organizations 2023” report found that 70% of CEOs and their leadership teams express transformative DEI aspirations while only 47% have the infrastructure to realize those aspirations. From the report, companies with more diverse teams are more innovative, make better decisions, and achieve their financial goals more effectively.

Some tips to embed DEI/DI&B programs in your team culture include:

  • Creating an inclusive hiring and onboarding process.
  • Equipping your human resources and talent acquisition teams to advocate for diversity and inclusion at every stage.
  • Building a sense of community and belonging by creating safe spaces for underrepresented members of your team.
  • Host open conversations or events for team members to share their experiences and challenges in the workplace, so they can feel welcome and like they belong.
  • Have dedicated inclusive spaces (for instance, you can have open spaces for people with disabilities or lactation rooms for new moms). That way, team members can be comfortable and their full selves.

3. Support mutual trust

Trust is at the core of an inclusive culture. Create clear avenues for your team members to feel safe and be themselves — regardless of their titles or tenures. Allow them to share ideas and thoughts, take chances, fail, and succeed individually and as a team.

Here are some quick ways to build mutual trust in your team culture:

  • Build reciprocal trust by hosting open forums or Q&A sessions with company leadership and your team to ask questions and get responses.
  • Build a closer connection by accepting feedback or constructive criticism from your team members at every level.
  • Share the big picture on projects, processes, and decisions so your team members know what’s happening or why a particular decision was made.

4. Share ownership and responsibilities

Workhuman’s Human Workplace Index (January 2023) shows that 46% of workers report feeling “somewhat valued” while 10.7% don’t feel “valued at all” (49.3% who feel undervalued are workers of color and 48.8% are women).

When employees feel undervalued at the workplace, they’re less likely to want to go back.

With this in mind, it’s in your company’s best interests to make your teammates feel like valued contributors by distributing ownership over parts of the decision-making process where appropriate.

For example, Asana’s Distributed Authority model entrusts responsibilities to a Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) in the team for each job as opposed to centralizing everything with managers.

Through its Areas of Responsibility (AORs) system, the company empowers specific team members to make the call on any decisions in their specific areas — even if other team members or managers disagree with them. That way, the DRIs gather lots of advice, hear everyone out, and incorporate feedback before making decisions.

Empowering your team members builds trust and helps them manifest their full potential, resulting in a happier and more effective organization.

5. Lead with clarity

A recent study shows that only 26% of employees clearly understand how their individual work relates to the overall company goals.

Confused teams struggle to achieve their goals, duplicate effort, and are easily distracted by low-priority tasks. Since it’s unclear who makes decisions, they squabble over the next steps, so deadlines slip or work quality suffers.

In many cases, work is siloed between tools and teams, making it hard to find. Increasing clarity on what needs to be done and why it matters gives your team direction and can increase employee performance by 22%.

To increase clarity:

  • Have a clear, tangible way to connect work to business goals.
  • Track company goals where work happens to provide clarity and increase employee motivation.
  • Connect daily work to projects team members are working on so they can see the goals they’re contributing to and how.

Building and living core values, investing in DEI or DI&B programs, supporting mutual trust, distributing responsibility, and leading with clarity will help you build team culture at your company. Involve your team members at every level and keep iterating and improving to create a team culture that leads to success.

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