OVER the past months, the need to adapt to rapid change has confronted every firm in the country, from the micro startup to the biggest multi-national. Already we’re seeing how smaller, more dynamic and tech-savvy teams are hacking their way through the post-Covid path, leaving behind those companies whose reliance on physical spaces and bums-on-seats has rendered them most vulnerable.
But in the race to prompt growth in an uncertain world, the all-important mission to create strong team culture can’t be forgotten.
Why is this important?
Because if teams don’t really understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, there is little to no chance of future-proofing your organisation in tough times, when resilience and strong team relationships are needed in spades.
The most dynamic firms know this, making sure that at all levels each team member is an important part of a thriving, inclusive culture. For example, the CEO of US tech firm Zapier, Wade Foster, says that workplace culture is about ‘more than ping-pong tables’, referring to the habit of some companies equipping a room with some form of entertainment and hoping that will suffice for staff who are office-bound.
That might be fine, but what about the increasing number of staff working remotely?
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“With co-located teams, it’s easy to ignore culture building with the expectation that it will naturally happen. In 99% of situations, this is simply not true, but by the time a co-located team realizes it, it might be too late to repair their culture.
“With a distributed team you know going in that culture will be hard to build. When you are team building online, you don’t delude yourself thinking that culture will magically happen. You go in eyes wide open. If a strong culture doesn’t develop it’s not because you didn’t try, it’s usually due to another reason.”
So how are we to build such a culture when many of our people are working from home or presently furloughed?
At the moment, a staff away-day or a trip to the pub for everyone on a Friday night isn’t a realistic prospect. We can’t take for granted that in this new climate, culture will somehow evolve. We have to make it happen.
Here are our tips:
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- Understand what your culture is. Obvious, but possibly not if you haven’t paid much attention to it or taken it for granted. A wellness audit may be one way of establishing how strongly culture is ingrained, and what can be done to improve it.
- Listen to what staff tell you. Encourage them to share their thoughts on what they believe the company is about and give them space, virtual or otherwise, to talk about themselves, their passions, their hopes and dreams. A strong, dynamic culture is built on individuals – so allow them to breathe and be brilliant.
- Be transparent. The vitality and openness integral to strong workplace culture cannot thrive if staff feel managers are holding back or somehow deceiving them. Share good news and bad news with equal amounts of honesty, building a culture of trust and safety.
- Encourage the sharing of updates. In an office environment, it’s relatively easy to see who’s doing what, when. Not as easy remotely, when 9-5 culture has gone out of the window. Encourage a daily or even weekly check-in, in which concerns are shared and wins are celebrated.
- Don’t forget the personal touch. Remote working has been catapulted into everyday reality for millions because of Covid-19. But there will come a time when all your remote workers want is an old fashioned catch-up, coffee and face-to-face chat. As Covid-relate restrictions ease, remember to honour your staff’s commitment during this challenging period by planning something great for them when practical.
PUSH Coach Ian Sanders is a storyteller and creative consultant who has delivered storytelling sessions to clients across the UK and Europe, he believes that sharing stories at work is key to building cultures that support loyalty and growth.
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He cites the example of Nancy Duarte, CEO of Silicon Valley-based Duarte Inc, with whom he spoke recently. “Like most teams right now, Duartians – for that’s what they call themselves at Duarte – are working from home,” he said. “On a chat recently Nancy told me, ‘You pop in late to a meeting and everyone is telling a story – of what happened that day or the week before. It makes you bond, it makes you strong. If we didn’t have that storytelling culture, I don’t know how we’d be so knit together like we are right now.’
“And a story-sharing culture starts with team members telling something of themselves during video calls like those at Duarte and, of course, in the thousands of other companies around the world now using online tools to get connected. It’s the personal that matters. Sceptics might question why it’s important to share personal stories with co-workers – what do they have to do with what goes on in the 9–5 of an organisation? But sharing personal stories is a fast-track to a better understanding of each other, and that reinforces a sense of trust as well as building respect.”
Ian also mentions a friend, Sally Croft, who joined Ericsson during lockdown. “She’s had to get to know her team without having yet met a single one of them in person,” Ian says. “Sally implemented her own story-sharing ritual by hosting a virtual ‘fika’ session, a Swedish ritual where teams get together for coffee and cake in order to get to know everybody. In these sessions, chat about business is strictly off-limits. ‘The more open you can be with your team, the more that you’ll get that back,’ Sally told me recently. ‘Sharing our stories on what really matters has been a great way of onboarding – I’ve got to know my team members more quickly than I may have otherwise.’”
Ian emphasises the fact that we’re sociable animals, and we share stories because they have the power to connect us.
“Over the last few months our work lives have undergone a seismic shift,” he says. “Our personal and professional lives are more meshed together than ever. We all have a window into each other’s homes, glimpsing kitchens, dining rooms, pets, flatmates and children as we join in our company’s video calls. It’s more relevant than ever to start sharing those personal stories so our connections get a deeper insight into who we are.”
To conclude, for the post-pandemic period the challenge for firms is to build supportive, resilient and embracing cultures featuring a mix of office and remote staff, and making sure no-one feels left out. This is a complex challenge indeed, but those who rise to it are the ones most like to survive and thrive in the months and years ahead.