When I ask leaders to tell me about the aspects of culture they love or hate (most often) they focus on behaviours.

They talk about team members who go directly to each other when they have an issue. Or they reflect on what people did to help them feel welcome when they joined the team.

On the flip side, they talk about how reactive people are, or how they cut each other off or talk over one another in meetings.

You can’t talk about culture without talking about behaviours. Because culture has a seen element.

We see culture expressed in sets of behaviours, systems, practices, patterns and ways of doing things. It shows up in how we act, respond and communicate.

It’s one of the reasons culture is so often defined as “the way we do things around here”.

By focusing on behaviours we can make the invisible nature of culture, observable.

When shaping culture by design it’s important to consider the unseen elements of culture (like values). But not without taking into consideration how these are lived out day to day in behaviours.

Values, while meaningful and important, are usually so abstract that they live on a wall more than they do in the daily actions of people.

In our research we asked people leaders how much they agree with this statement:

Our values are clearly communicated to everyone.

Just under half of people (49 per cent) strongly agreed with this statement. When it came to being able to describe the organisation’s values and how they are lived out every day, just 39 per cent of people leaders strongly agreed.

However, when it came to the statement ‘our organisational values are more than words, the behavioural expectations are clearly defined’, just 36 per cent of leaders strongly agreed.

Values without clearly defined behaviours are like having a car without the keys. It looks great but it won’t get you where you want to go.

Consider the seen element of culture by bringing your team together and having a conversation about the behaviours in your team.

What behaviours are tolerated, not tolerated, accepted, or rejected?

Make three columns on a page and decide together:

1. What behaviours would we like to establish – Which behaviours are we not yet practising that we would like to start?
2. What behaviours would we like to enhance – Which behaviours are we already practising that we would like to keep doing or do more of?
3. What behaviours would we like to eliminate – Which behaviours are we already practising that we would like to stop doing?

In doing this, every team member can leave knowing what they can do in order to make the culture you aspire to create, a reality.

Here’s a question to reflect on this week:
What are the observable behaviours we would like to see more or less of in this team?