Which Actions Build Culture

Published: March 6, 2019

It is easy to sit around the conference table and wordsmith a mission statement. Everyone can contribute favorite values like “collaboration,” “innovation,” “compassion,” and “commitment to excellence.” The entire team can voice a commitment to behave in a way that reflects the spirit of the vision. The Human Resources department can reward good behavior and punish violations. Leadership can have the words painted on the wall where employees enter the workspace. Although a good start, these are not the actions that build positive culture.

Treat workplace culture as a slow cooker requiring the right ingredients, sustained attention, and time. Momentum must be fueled with every interaction between colleagues and clients. The human cadence from tension to resolution becomes the recipe for establishing, growing and refreshing the tone of the workplace until everyone knows what to expect and how to contribute.

Every teammate exercises daily choices about whether to invest in or detract from the culture. Responsibility defines what you are supposed to do, and accountability defines whether you did it. These actions fall in four areas:

Investment: I will be a role model for the norms of a healthy workplace by the way I treat others. I will show my buy-in to the mission by practicing the values both visibly and when teammates aren’t looking. I will manage differences and conflict with professionalism.

Trust: I will treat everyone with respect and seek to repair relationships when disrespect creeps in. I will grow my connections with teammates in a way that promotes psychological safety and unconditional positive regard. I will hold myself and others accountable by following through with commitments and confronting my teammates whenever things have gotten off track.

Innovation: I will strive for continuous improvement with a problem-solving mindset. I will be open to different perspectives. I will harness the strength of diversity to energize collaboration. I will manage the discomfort of growth with maturity.

Distancing: I will step back and recalibrate when change has overtaken the workplace. I will respond to the normal depletion of loss with efforts to refuel. I will accept new circumstances and reinvest with a positive attitude.

Embrace the cyclical nature of all teams. The lifespan of a group of people provides constant opportunities to renew the culture of the workplace. Whether building infrastructure, inviting closeness, pushing growth, or reacting to change, each of us owns the responsibility of feeding the health and wellness of the team.

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.