7 Signs of a Healthy Staff Culture

Culture Wins

An organization lives and dies by its culture. Gone are the days of punching a time clock and hunkering down until retirement. High-capacity people want to work for high-capacity organizations – and high-capacity organizations should care about culture.

Author and management consultant, Peter Drucker, says it best, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It’s a sentiment echoed by our CEO, William Vanderbloemen in the book Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an Irresistible Workplace, “When a culture is bad, no matter how talented the team or great the strategy, a team will never reach its potential. Because whether good or bad, culture is the trump card that determines your team’s outcome."

As a leader, are you creating a contagious culture where people want to come to work? And even more, want to invite their friends to join them?

Use these seven characteristics to help shape a healthy, purpose-driven culture for your purpose-driven organization.

1. A Clear Vision And Purpose

Does your team (and your target audience) know why you are doing what you’re doing? The words of author Simon Sinek ring true: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”

As a leader, be clear about why you exist, and then cast that vision daily. Yes, every day. Clarity is the key to alignment. It’s also key to attracting the right members to your team.

To sum it up: vision = clarity; clarity = alignment; and alignment = potential for growth.

At Vanderbloemen, we have a weekly all-staff meeting where our leadership highlights examples of when our work has made a difference helping other teams. We exist to serve teams with a greater purpose – that’s what motivates our staff on a daily basis; that’s our ‘Why.’ What’s yours?

2. Well-Defined Core Values

Whether you know it or not, your team operates from a set of values. They might not be written down or have even been said out loud, but as the leader, you’re setting the tone for the values by which your team operates.

A few years ago, when we were only a team of ten, our CEO, William Vanderbloemen, set aside intentional time at our staff retreat to formalize our team’s values.

What started as a list of fifty ideas became a list of nine core values that we felt embodied who we wanted to be as an organization. This was one of the most significant culture decisions our team has made. It has allowed the strong culture of our small team of ten to remain consistent with the culture we have today as a team of nearly 40 full-time employees.

If you don’t have your values solidified as an organization, start the process now. Answer the question, “When we're performing at our very best, what characteristics describe us that are common to us but uncommon to other teams?” Then write those values down and reference them often. Trust us, it will be worth it.

In-House Team

3. An In-House Team

An in-house team – as opposed to a team that encourages staff members to work virtually – has an advantage in the culture-building department.

Our leadership made an intentional decision a few years ago that our Vanderbloemen team would be an in-house team, allowing for the highest amount of collaboration, team bonding, and culture building that makes our search process so effective.

While there is a place for virtual teams, if your organization is struggling culturally, be careful how much you allow your team to work virtually. If you’re in a turn-around or revitalization process, you might consider having everyone in the office for at least a good portion of the day so that you can work to reestablish a positive culture.

Yahoo, IBM, and Best Buy are a few high-profile organizations that shifted to having more staff onsite as they overhauled their cultures.

In the hierarchy of communication, there’s no replacement for the personal touch of an in-person conversation. It’s difficult to interpret tone and true intent through more impersonal mediums like text or email.

Author Carol Kinsey Goman writes about the value of in-person teams: “If your organization actively promotes telecommuting and virtual teams (often a necessity with today's global workforce), you’ll find that just one initial face-to-face meeting will to a long way to sustaining team spirit and increasing productivity when everyone goes back to their respective workplaces.”

If you do go virtual, consider ways you can maintain the health of your culture by planning an in-person gathering for your team.

Yet getting everyone together in the same location is only part of the culture solution. A lot of thought needs to be put into the design of your space to facilitate better communication and allow staff to more effectively perform tasks.

In our offices, we have an open setting where people can work at their desks, sit in big comfy chairs, or stand at a high table by a window. There are also small, private rooms where people can work quietly or have a phone conversation or meeting. Our large cafe gives staff the opportunity to eat with one another or to host culture events for our entire team.

This flexibility allows team members to engage with one another in spaces most conducive to productivity. So the physical design of our office complements our company values and culture.

Think about ways you can encourage more opportunities among your staff for in-person engagement. You’ll likely find that the stronger the working relationships, the stronger your culture will be long-term.

4. An Environment of Collaboration and Engagement

There’s no replacement for being physically present when building collaborative relationships. So if collaboration is important within your organization, consider an in-house team.

Despite the rise of technology like Slack, iMessage or Skype, it’s difficult to replace face-to-face collaboration.

When your culture is healthy, your employees will be working together toward shared objectives and collectively solving problems.

Are your staff members siloed and always working independently? Not only can this inhibit creativity to help your team become better, it can lead to a lack of engagement.

We keep our team engaged by requiring them to contribute to our blog on a regular basis. This keeps them aligned with the company vision and helps them better understand the work other teams are doing.

It can be easy to get stuck in a departmental bubble. So think of ways you can encourage staff to work with members of other teams. They'll get insight into the value of others' roles and likely develop a stronger team mentality.

5. An Environment of High Trust and High Expectation

Trust is an integral part of a healthy culture. Leaders need to trust that their staff members are accomplishing their goals. For a staff, there is significant freedom in a high trust environment. It also means a high level of expectations.

When there is trust, the result is creativity, new ideas, and ultimately, an environment conducive to high performance.

It’s important for leaders to be able to delegate responsibilities to subordinates and trust that they will get the job done. In contrast, micromanaging can negatively impact an employee's confidence and performance.

Now, in order for this set up to work in a healthy way, there need to be regular check-ins and goal setting collaboratively between leaders and staff. There also need to be regular reviews to ensure that objectives are being met and there is overall alignment.

If you feel stuck with staff reviews, download our free staff review template.

High expectations, complemented by trust from leadership, can lead to a thriving employee and a winning culture.

Growth Mindset

6. A Growth Mindset

No, not a growth mindset in terms of profits or company growth. Rather, a growth mindset in the sense of constant improvement and a goal to find ways to get better each day.

Psychologist Carol Dweck outlines the definition of a growth mindset in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success: “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

A growth mindset allows employees to operate in spaces just outside of their comfort zones. It also allows for candid, non-evaluative feedback and creates a culture that welcomes new ideas. Employees are expected – or sometimes encouraged – to fail, adapt, and improve, without ever being labeled as ‘failures.'

Organizational mindset is a critical piece of a healthy culture. It can affect “workers’ satisfaction, perceptions of the organizational culture, levels of collaboration, innovation, and ethical behavior” (Harvard Business Review).

In a growth mindset organization, employees can stretch themselves because they’re excited about learning new skills and solving new problems. As Dweck notes, organizations with a growth mindset stress the idea that “becoming is better than being.” And that mindset is infectious. If modeled by those in leadership, it can completely alter an organization’s culture.

Does your team enjoy challenges, strive to learn, and consistently see potential to develop new skills? Or do you believe talent is fixed and new skills are unattainable?

If your organization has a growth mindset, you’ll likely improve employee satisfaction, hire more effectively, and retain a high-performing team.

7. Work/Life Balance

Plenty of organizations won’t stop you from taking vacation, but they might frown upon it behind closed doors. Our employees are encouraged to actually use their time off to spend time with family, recharge, rest, and relax. If you ever hear grumbles about not being able to take vacation in an office, that is usually a sign of a toxic office culture.

Our staff does not telecommute or work remotely (other than our awesome consultants who are on the road meeting with great churches during the week), and having an in-house team fosters our collaboration, effectiveness, efficiency, and team culture. We do, however, have a flexible window of when we can arrive at and leave work, allowing the early birds to arrive at 7 a.m. when they desire and the others to arrive at 8 or 9 a.m. so they can work when they are most productive. We also have freedom to use our allotted paid time off as we need. Having this spirit of flexibility helps strengthen a great staff culture.

And when time off is taken, it really is time to unplug and enjoy time away. We do our best to delegate responsibilities among our team to ensure that a staff member doesn't have to work while away. 

A healthy culture doesn't develop overnight. But the time to change your culture is now. Invest in your culture and your staff, and you'll be establishing a foundation for greater growth so your organization can fulfill its greater purpose.

If you're thinking about ways to implement these ideas, take our free Culture Tool. We'll help you assess the health of your organization and take your culture to the next level.

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