Crisis to Opportunity: The Best Time to Reboot a Culture

Published: July 18, 2017

It ends with a mass exodus. It begins with key talent frustrated with lack of support being lured to greener pastures. The mounting turnover consumes too much of leadership’s time and attention. The team soon spirals to survival mode where tasks related to mission and vision become low priorities. All effort is focused on urgent recruitment, just-in-time training, and plugging holes. Although painful, it’s perfect timing to reboot the culture.

Not every team enjoys the rare pleasure of moving from good to great and becoming a magnet for the world’s best talent. These lucky few organizations spend countless hours chipping away at the aspects of their organizations that threaten to erode employee and client satisfaction. They know the job is never complete and operate in a continuous improvement mode.

Most teams, on the other hand, go through more onerous cycles of loss and change. Workplace energy is depleted. Factions develop. There is disagreement on vision and goals. An undercurrent of disrespect undermines trust. Accountability slips. Teammates are afraid to serve up innovative ideas. Eventually, the landslide begins. Someone has had enough and abruptly departs. The bold move is contagious and everyone starts thinking about other career options.

Here lies the threshold of opportunity. While inertia and momentum virtually guarantee the team will enter a new cycle just like the old one, courageous leaders call “time-out” and rethink direction. The path is arduous but the steps are clear:

  1. Name the pain. Diagnose the symptoms and acknowledge the team’s sickness.
  2. Decide whether to stay stuck or move forward. Those who prefer to stay stuck should respectfully excuse themselves from the team.
  3. Garner consensus alignment with a refreshed statement of mission, values, and vision.
  4. Make an accountability pact where everyone agrees to assist each other in staying true to the desired future workplace norms.
  5. Use every interaction as an opportunity to strengthen the culture moving forward. Missed opportunities, by default, weaken the team.

Like most change, the situation needs to become intolerable before it is painful enough to spark transformation. Until that moment, it’s easier to normalize the discomfort and find a sympathetic ear to complain. Commiserating generates energy, albeit negative. Once the team is finished trumpeting to the world how awful the situation has become, healthy actions can begin.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.