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What Is Team Culture and How To Determine Yours

Children keeping hands together over grass.

Okay, close your eyes. Now, think about the company you work for (or the company you run). What are the first three words that come to mind?

Write those down. Are they positive? Do they elicit a sense of comfort?

Are they more energized words? Do they signify a sense of motion or movement? How might those reflect your team’s culture?

Defining and communicating your team culture can help you create a healthy workplace and set your team up for success. We spend as much time at work as we spend at home — it’s important that work is a place people want to be, a place that supports them and lifts them up.

Our work environments affect us on multiple levels. First, they affect our well-being, including our mental, emotional, and even physical health. Second, they affect our performance and success on the job.

We’ve all seen workplaces that aren’t supportive or positive. There might be a lot of office gossip, feelings of distrust between people, and poor management. It’s no surprise that, in an environment like that, people feel unmotivated, put forth minimal effort, or end up quitting.

On the other hand, we’ve all seen amazing, even enviable workplace cultures. With a strong, positive team culture, people enjoy going to work and can withstand tough challenges because they know they have other people to fall back on.

When cultivating team culture, you don’t have to start from scratch. The first step is to notice the culture you already have. See how that reflects your company’s mission and what you want your culture to be, and go from there.

Your Team Has a Culture Even if You Didn’t Notice

Even if you want to believe your team is “outside” of the mainstream, you still have a culture. Every team does. Some team cultures, like Basecamp’s culture, are more obvious. They write books about it all the time. But even if your team isn’t as loud about your company culture, you still have one. It might be lurking beyond the water cooler, but it’s there.

Reflect on Your Company Culture

How does your team react when something really challenging comes up?

How does your team respond when a client has a big issue? Is your team, on the whole, afraid to take action? Is your team impulsive?

The answers to all of these questions indicate your company culture but they’re just the beginning. To really understand it, you’ll want to see how people work together, how they socialize, and how they communicate.

What type of management style do your leaders have? Maybe they’re collaborative and enjoy coaching their teams, mentoring them, and helping them to take on leadership roles. This creates an atmosphere of trust, equality, and autonomy, where people feel prepared to make decisions and step in for other people as needed.

On the other hand, you might have a management team that prefers to keep tabs on every process or decision. For some industries, this works best because decision-making requires specialized knowledge and experience that not everyone has.

Observe how supportive people are of one another. Maybe you notice that everyone pretty much keeps to themselves but that they’re all very absorbed in doing quality work. You have a team that honors independence and meticulous attention to detail.

On the other hand, maybe your team loves to laugh together, make jokes, and get to know each other in a more personal way. That fun, exciting workplace could be great for creatives and people in communications.

Common Words to Describe Culture

When writing about your culture, it can be helpful to look at some of the most common words, both positive and negative, to describe it. Let’s take a look at a few:

Positive

  • Nurturing
  • Progressive
  • Casual
  • Inclusive
  • Collaborative
  • Fun
  • Independent
  • Challenging

Negative

  • Disengaged
  • Disconnected
  • Stressful
  • Unsupportive
  • Hostile
  • Micromanaged
  • Toxic

We sincerely hope you don’t need negative words to describe your culture. Hopefully, you’ll only need to use them as a reference point or as an example of the kind of culture you don’t want.

But if some of those negative words do fit, at least you’ve taken a step in the right direction. Don’t beat yourself up — many factors could be at play, including being understaffed, having a dispersed team, and struggling to stay in business, not to mention navigating an uncertain world. While you might not be able to solve all of those problems right away, you can take steps to improve where you’re at now.

Get Input From Your Team

Don’t just rely on your own observations about culture. When you set out to define it, always ask for input from the team.

You might want to ask them questions like:

  1. What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of our company?
  2. What does it feel like when you enter the office on Monday?
  3. What does it feel like at 3 p.m. on a Friday in the office?
  4. What’s your favorite thing about the team?
  5. How do your teammates make you feel when you’re down?
  6. Do your teammates inspire you? If so, how?

Once you have those answers, start writing out how this might reflect your culture. For example, let’s say someone described your company as warm, fun, and exciting, and let’s say they said their favorite thing about the team was that each member inspires the other.

In that case, it sounds like you have a company culture built on support, learning, and understanding. Identify that, and write that down.

Maybe someone describes Friday afternoons as relaxing because everyone goes out for coffee together. They might add that on Monday mornings, everyone catches up and talks about how their weekend was. You might describe your culture as casual, flexible, trusting, and welcoming.

On the other hand, Fridays might be quiet as everyone signs off a little early, while Mondays might feel a little serious as everyone’s super focused on their work. You could describe your culture as motivating and autonomous.

Write Out Your Ideal Company Culture

Once you’ve written out your company culture, it’s time to write out your ideal company culture. Does your company’s vision match your ideal company culture? Is there anything you want to bring to your team that might be missing?

How might you support your team in times of crisis? How might your team come together to support each other? What do your team members sound like when they respond to an angry email? How much autonomy does each member have?

Look at what’s working and what isn’t working in your team culture. Refine what’s not working, and change what isn’t.

For example, if you’ve identified support, learning, and understanding as core aspects of your culture, see how you can highlight that even more.

Can you identify mentors to partner with new hires? Is there a monthly event you could host to bring people together? You might want to stoke the fires of connection by having happy hours or wellness hours, either in-person or virtually.

On the other hand, perhaps you’ve realized that your culture isn’t where you’d like it to be. It might be defined by a lack of connection. With many teams working remotely, it’s all too easy for that to happen. Try creating a virtual water cooler on Slack, and encourage consistent communication by setting that example yourself.

Be sure not only to identify and define your team culture but to communicate it. Put it in your company’s mission statement, let your team know about it, and reference it regularly.

Work Toward Your Ideal Culture

Your team culture is a work in progress, so you should take consistent action to make sure you’re building and sustaining it.

Keep it in mind through every interaction, interview, and experience that you have with your team, candidates, or vendors. Consistency is key.

If you promote an environment of learning, you’ll want to make sure you’re offering enough courses and opportunities for your team. If you provide an autonomous workspace, you’ll want to check yourself whenever you’re micromanaging.

If you strive to work with a casual, fun team, you’ll want to ensure you have the proper activities and events planned to keep spirits light.

Remember, there’s no wrong way to craft your company’s culture, but if you do not actively create your culture, one will be created whether you like it or not.

The Dot Experience

Creating a legendary team with a strong culture starts with hiring the right people. Without help, finding those people can be overwhelming. That’s where we come in.

Recruitment isn’t just about checking off the boxes and seeing how a candidate appears on paper. You want people with drive, personality, and a unique vision. That means taking a more specialized approach, something our Talent Advisors are experts in.

If you’re a business ready to take the next step in growing your team or a recruiter interested in joining us, we welcome you! We’ve helped amazing businesses like the NFL, DirectTV, Snapchat, and more build amazing teams.

And if you’re a job seeker hoping for your dream job, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!