New leader. New vision. Same team.

Published: March 7, 2017

One of the fundamental principles of human development states that, with each stage, the child inherits both the successes and failures of the previous stage. So it goes in the life cycle of a team. How, then, do you keep history from repeating?

Leaders come and leaders go. They bring compelling new visions for the future. Yet, each new leader inherits the generational culture of his or her predecessor. Another basic tenet of development is homeostasis. Simply, living things work very hard to stay the same. Transforming team culture is a long and arduous process. What are the traits of the teams who ultimately succeed in boosting morale and strengthening organizational culture?

Patience

Sustained change doesn’t happen overnight. Take time to engage the team in the process of the transition. There’s always a current state and a desired state. The space in between is to be savored even if it includes discomfort. The struggle has purpose.

Clarity

Leadership transitions are natural opportunities to put mission and values on the table for review. Gather full team feedback about why we do the work we do, what service we provide, and how we deliver our gifts differently than our peers.

Accountability

Every word and action either strengthens or weakens the mission and values that underpin the culture. Shine a light on the behaviors that fortify the health of the workplace. Throw a penalty flag whenever someone acts in a way that undermines organizational wellness. Give everyone the authority to respectfully and professionally call out the difference.

Application

Share stories. Devote a segment of every staff meeting to hear about occurrences with clients and colleagues that illuminate the best aspects of team culture. The expectations of the mission impact each job role differently. Invite a narrative to better understand how this brings meaning to each teammate.

Empowerment

Sponsor the teammates who display an understanding of the culture through their engagement. It’s often not the employees with the leadership titles who step up and lead by example during times of change. The best projects and resources should be deployed to those who communicate loyalty to the mission with their actions.

It takes courage to spearhead a transition when the remnants of the previous leadership style sanction and normalize laziness or dysfunction. It’s hard to ask someone who has grown accustomed to taking a shortcut to consider the benefits of going the long way around. At first, only a few brave teammates will embrace the new work ethic. Someday, those same people will be called upon to lead similar transitions.

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.