Rebuilding Team Culture

Published: December 6, 2016

Eventually, there is a tipping point. Once an organization decides to address team culture, a tremendous amount of effort is exerted before employees can discern the difference. The shift from current state to desired state is filled with both pain and hope. It happens in stages. Once the process has traction, a lone voice or a single action is enough to propel positive momentum. Let’s take a look at each stage.


Something significant has changed signaling a window of opportunity. Perhaps a respected leader has departed or a merger/acquisition has been finalized. Whatever the event, the team is forced to rethink its foundation. What is our mission? Can I align with these values? Do I agree with the new direction? This stage is typically depleting emotionally.


What does this change mean for me? Before a group can embrace the greater good of a team culture, individuals must be able to measure its impact on their roles and growth potential. A healthy and natural resistance marks a phase where teammates are deciding whether to stay or go. This stage is typically frustrating and tentative.


Clarity about leadership style and common goals brings comfort. The organization acclimates to a new rhythm of interaction. Day-to-day occurrences either validate or refute the promise of the mission. Accountability builds trust and interpersonal connections are strengthened. This stage typically brings relief.


Healthy teams understand the role of naysayers. Assuming they’re not toxic, their function is to slow the process and force the larger group to consider the merits of not changing. Often, this signals a group decision about whether to stay stuck or move forward. Usually, a critical mass of teammates invested in the new direction attempts to move the culture forward against the resistance of the naysayers. The political power and influence of the resisters determines what happens next. This stage is typically wrought with apprehension.

Tipping Point

Most teams have a courageous member who is willing to step up to the resistance. An army of silent supporters will line up behind this brave voice. The clarity of a better future summons all of the forces of nature to the moment. Naysayers are disempowered and culture-friendly leadership behaviors arise. This stage is typically characterized by hope.


The culture now supports the work of the organization’s mission with minimal interference from the change process. Of course, the innovative nature of the work made possible by a safe and trusting workplace will eventually trigger a new phase of change and another chance to refresh the culture. This stage is typically experienced as fun.

Change always introduces opportunity. Cycle after cycle, teams redefine why their work is important and how their roles can best support the organization’s growth. In what stage is your team right now?

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 University 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.