The culture of your team will be a reflection of the conversations in your team. Both the conversation’s you have and those you won’t.

It’s the conversations you won’t have that allow or reinforce the culture you don’t want. It’s the conversations you choose to have that design and shape the culture you really want.

I’ve had the privilege of working in and with a number of different teams throughout my career and now in my practice. One thing is consistent in every context, the culture of a team or organisation either rises to the level of intentional design or defaults to the sum average of the environment.

Default culture brings chaos.

Default culture is the collision of cultures showing up in your team or organisation. If culture (very simplistically) is a way of doing things. Then default culture is each person bringing ‘how I do things’ into the environment. I’m never surprised when I see teams in conflict because the office is where the world of personal and organisational cultures collide. 

Design culture brings clarity.

Conscious and intentional work to create a culture by design is valuable. It’s the sweet spot where team members know ‘how we do things’ here. It shifts people from chaos, resistance and uncertainty to clarity, consistency and ownership. 

So how do you move from chaos to clarity? 

In my culture conversations program, I discuss three key stages. 

  1. Finding Shared Value – What do we all want? 
  2. Creating Shared Language – How can we talk about it? 
  3. Building Shared Accountability – How will we hold each other accountable?   

When you’ve taken time to design your ideal culture, it’s the accountability conversations that help shape the culture. It’s two kinds of conversations; confirming conversations and confronting conversations.

Confronting Conversations

We can challenge counter-cultural behaviours within the context of our shared value by having confronting conversations. These conversations challenge and redirect the behaviours that won’t help build the desired culture. When we choose not to have these conversations we can be unintentionally reinforcing these behaviours and allowing it to continue. 

Confirming Conversations

We can recognise and reward the culture building behaviours and link them back to the context of our shared values by having confirming conversations. When you have a conversation with a person that acknowledges high performance, you should take time to draw the connection back to the agreed shared value so the person understands why this behaviour is being rewarded. Recognition needs to be intentional because what is rewarded ultimately gets repeated. 

How often should we have each conversation? Like many things in the workplace this is a delicate tension to manage.

If we only ever confront counter-culture behaviour, we end up with depressed people. People walk around waiting for someone to jump on their faults. They operate from a place that says, ‘I’m no good’. They often think they can ‘do no right’.

If we only ever confirm good behaviour, we end up with deluded people. These people walk around waiting for affirmation. They operate from a place that says, ‘I’m so good’. They often think they can ‘do no wrong’.

Are the conversations in your team building or hurting your culture? What do you need to do now to start building a culture by design and creating deeper cultural clarity?