The challenge of creating the right sub-culture

One of the most acknowledged key ingredients for any great team or organisation is its culture.

The most innovative companies – such as Apple, Google or Pixar – are always used as examples of organisations that have the right culture. Other organisations – such as local government or financial institutions – are often used as examples where bureaucracy creates the wrong culture. In other examples, fear is often used to describe why culture is badly affecting the health of the culture in an organisation – just think about any of the ‘great’ companies that disappeared during the recent financial crash.

But, I always think that the examples are missing a really key point. Obviously I can’t disagree with the fact that a company’s culture can influence it’s success – or not – but I do think that there is something else that is often forgotten – or overlooked.

And that is that a company, organisation or even a large team does not have just one single culture.

The sub-culture

Yes, companies can set an environment for a particular type of culture to thrive – however, quite often in my experience, each team will have its own culture – a type of sub-culture. Something that has grown through the time the team has been together. Something that each member of the team influences. Something that supports that team to exist, function and do its work.

Quite often this sub-culture is shaped by the manager of the team. The manager can support the culture of a team to be a better culture than the wider culture of the organisation – or the manager can support the culture of the team to be a worse culture. It can either make people want to stay in or join your team – or it can make them leave or not want to join in the first place. Everybody knows about that team that they could never work in – and about that team that they really do want to work in.

And this sub-culture is something that I have always had an interest in as it is something that as a manager/leader I can influence and help shape, and it it something that I have always tried to shape even when I didn’t have any managerial responsibilities.

It is also something that I have been working on changing for my team as part of our journey to becoming a great team – to become that team that people want to work for.

Cultivating the right sub-culture

In my earlier post – The importance of purpose – I wrote about when I first started working in my team that I didn’t fit properly within the culture of that team at the time – a bit of an issue when you’re the manager of the team! And as I felt that I didn’t fit within the culture of the team I never took ownership of it, or tried to shape it. Instead I just let the existing culture fester. I knew it wasn’t the culture that I wanted for my team. As a result we weren’t working as we should. The environment wasn’t encouraging the growth of the right culture. There was bickering, there was blame passing, there was an unwritten rule that the quality of the work didn’t really matter. The team saw itself as being there to just do the work.

But then one day I decided that for me to carry on being part of the team I needed to act as the manager of the team and start to influence the sub-culture, I needed to make the sub-culture better, I needed to make it more like the sub-culture we needed.

And as the manager of the team I have focused a lot of my energy, time and decisions on changing it – for the better.

So I started to sow the seeds of the right sub-culture and then started to cultivate the right environment needed for them to grow and flourish. 

Reaching out for help 

And to help sow the seeds over the past year or so, I reached out for help.

I knew that I didn’t have the experience or knowledge to do all that in my own. I knew that that I needed something or someone else to help me do what I knew we needed to do.

So I reached out to the brilliantly insightful and inspirational people at SYPartners. And unlike those large organisations that SYPartners usually work with – like Apple, Nike and Starbucks – I could not afford to bring them over to the UK to work face-to-face with me and the team.

But luckily I didn’t need to!

As the old saying says “When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears” – and appear it did. About a year ago, the great people at SYPartners launched a new set of tools – called Teamworks – which were designed to help people like me.  Teamworks was designed to keep your team engaged and aligned – so you can work better together and do your best work.

So I signed my team up to using it.

Teamworks gave me a platform to create an environment where we could start growing our new sub-culture. By completing the tools in the nine habits of great teams, Teamworks gave me space and the opportunity to work on some new actions, decisions and activities as a team.

Taking actions – making progress

In some of my other posts – check them out at www.iammichaelwatts.com – I have talked about some of the actions, decisions and activities that we did as a team to start become team, such as – 

Good times are coming

One of the things that is giving me a real skip in my step at the moment is that I am now starting to see the fruits of my labour. I am starting to see the sub-culture that we need as a team starting to emerge.

I’m starting to see minds – and hopefully hearts – change when we talk about what we do, why we do it, and how we do it.

We are working as a team. We are building on our skills sets – and understanding when someone else in the team may have a more suited skill set for a task. We share setting high standards for ourselves and others.

We are starting to live, breathe and be our shared team purpose. 

We are making progress.

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