At Work

Why Culture, Not Goals, Sets High Performing Teams Apart

By: Sophie Renton 

The health of an organisation’s culture influences and determines the health of the organisation.

It is culture, not goals, that sets teams apart and, therefore, needs to be on the radar of leaders.

Culture is the environment that whether intentionally or unintentionally is created for workers. It is in this environment that workers on average will spend a third of their waking hours, which means investment in culture is too big to ignore. Organisational leaders have an opportunity and a responsibility to shape the environment that their team engage with every day.

In the transition to a hybrid work environment, measuring engagement and shaping culture has become increasingly challenging, yet has never been more essential. The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in the greatest transformation to work in a century, with the decoupling of work from the workplace and the widespread adoption of hybrid working.

This is requiring leaders to rethink old models and methods of investing in and shaping culture, when team are less visible and more dispersed. It has not, however, reduced the importance of investing in culture, because culture is crucial to the attraction and retention of employees.

Young Employees Want Work with Values and a Social Life

The emerging generation of employees are not settling for the status quo of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. They are driven by having purpose and meaning in their work (72%), a desire for their work to align with their core values (68%) and having a workplace that is a community of strong social connections (65%).

It is in this context that it becomes essential to understand how to shape culture in this new world of work. A world that is decentralised and competitive, where a focus on people, purpose and flexibility is required.

Culture can be difficult to define and measure. To build thriving cultures, however, leaders need visibility and clarity to unlock action. There is the old adage, of ‘what gets measured gets done’ and to help leaders create thriving workplace communities with culture at the centre, McCrindle has developed a seven-part culture framework to help the intangible become tangible.

The Seven Differentiators of Culture

1. Leadership

Leaders are cultivators of culture. They have a responsibility to lead by example and live out the values of the organisation. Highly engaged teams have strong relationships with their leaders where they feel comfortable providing feedback and trusted to get the job done.

2. Meaningful work

Highly engaged team members experience meaningful work, whereby they are proud of their work, have a sense of ownership for their role, and can see the positive impacts of their work. In essence, they are connected to and working towards something greater than themselves.

3. Team connections and communication

Highly engaged teams have strong relational connections and trust across the team. Highly engaged team members are twice as likely as low engaged members to strongly/somewhat agree they have a high level of trust in their colleagues (88% cf. 41%). This provides a platform for feedback, teamwork and a safe environment for innovation and creativity.

4. Vision

Vision is essential at uniting and clarifying the shared mission and bringing alignment to the effort of the team. Without vision, an organisation is a collection of people without a clear aim. Organisations with high team engagement clearly communicate their vision and team members are clear on how they contribute to it.

5. Wellbeing

Workplace wellbeing is just one element of a healthy workplace culture and is so much more than the office fruit bowl. Thriving teams have realistic expectations for their roles and can maintain a healthy balance between work and personal commitments. There is frequent recognition for good work and room for failing forward, taking risks, and learning from them.

6. Values and shared behaviour

Culture is most effective when it is owned by the collective. Having shared values that are clearly articulated brings alignment and clarity to what is a win for the organisation. Team members need to feel empowered to hold others accountable to the shared values of the organisation. When an organisation’s values do not align with the daily practices, it can lead to disengagement.

A focus on training, development and coaching in an organisation is essential for the retention of engaged workers. Engaged employees feel like they are growing and developing. Team members looking to leave are likely to be at organisations where there is not a focus on training and development.

Thriving Culture Leads to Superior Outcomes

Organisations that have highly engaged team members score higher on all seven culture differentiators. The number one element that sets them apart, however, is leadership. Trust and accessibility of leadership is crucial to healthy cultures.

These thriving cultures don’t just create great places to work with higher retention, they also lead to superior outcomes. Highly engaged workers are 2.7 times as likely as low engaged workers to say their organisation is extremely/very effective at achieving its vision and goals (86% cf. 32% low engagement).

As the world of work continues to change, the requirements on leaders are growing. In a people-first culture the most necessary skills are the distinctively human characteristics. It is requiring leaders to lead with empathy, understanding and trust. If you are looking to grow an organisation of impact and legacy, a healthy culture is essential. It is worth the investment and will reap rewards for years to come.


Article supplied with thanks to McCrindle.

About the Author: McCrindle are a team of researchers and communications specialists who discover insights, and tell the story of Australians – what we do, and who we are.

Feature image: Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash  

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