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Home > About > eConnect Archive > April 2019 > Team Building

Team Building Doesn't Work and Culture is to Blame

By Dr. Anne Marie Ward, PhD

All too often leaders think a few team building exercises and the increased frequency of meetings will boost morale, productivity and teamwork. When it doesn’t work, leaders begin to blame specific employees or the team. Frustrated and confused, many leaders allow, or create, silos around their employees, which only deepens interpersonal issues and weakens the team. Then they point the finger at culture and say that the ‘culture’ is to blame or say that a frustrated team member simply doesn’t fit the company culture.

So, what’s the deal? Why do some teams struggle to develop, and what makes ‘culture’ so elusive? To begin with, effective team building assumes that each member of the team is independently self-fulfilled and ready to contribute to the team. Unfortunately, this is often rare. Many individuals do not have what they need to succeed in their role. There may be a lack of clarity and/or communication from their supervisor, a lack of organization, limited funding, or absence of direction and purpose.

Without the needs of the individual being fulfilled, a leader should anticipate hostility, negativity, frustration, stress, anxiety and interpersonal problems. Individual contributors who have everything that they need to complete their job are upbeat, positive, confident, competent, and excited about being a part of a team. Thus, effective team building begins with the individual, not the team.

Additionally, we are entering an era where the millennial generation has pushed us to look at the purpose and motivation of work. Long overdue, this push forces leaders to understand, share, and reinforce the goals and motivations of the company. Part of this new era is the inclusion of self-development as the foundation to team development. This may seem counterintuitive, but the development of the individual will naturally boost the group.

Once you have individual contributors who have access to what they need to be successful in their role and the opportunity for self-development, the team can begin to develop, and finally, the culture will begin to flourish. However, this begs the question, what is ‘culture’? We know that culture correlates to retention, productivity and satisfaction, so how can leaders cultivate a positive culture.

Originally focused on specific peoples, religions and customs, culture is now the virtual dumping ground for any interpersonal problems, retention issues or low job satisfaction scores. Yet, whose fault is it? Everything begins and ends with the leader, so it’s important for leaders to fully understand the concept of culture.

We know culture is powerful. Culture is the intangible magic that makes traveling enticing. We get on a plane and we enter new worlds. What then, makes culture difficult to define and duplicate in our own businesses? Companies with strong cultures easily poach the best individual contributors. They understand that culture is a trifecta:

  1. fulfilled and developed individual contributors,
  2. teams who understand the purpose, motivations and goals of the company,
  3. company leadership who define direction through strategic planning and reinforce positive behavior through team-developed guiding principles/core values

When one area of the trifecta is weak, the culture will begin to weaken. Conversely, when each area strengthens, the culture is reinforced and will also become stronger. Culture is neither elusive or magical. Developing culture depends on a strong, committed leader who is willing to put the time, energy and resources into their company. At the end of the day, the leader is the orchestrator, not the master, of a successful team, culture and company.

About the Contributor

Dr. Ward has a PhD in Leadership and is an expert in self-development, emotional intelligence, leadership development and strategic planning. She is the owner and founder of Utmost Strategic Consulting & Design Group where she designs curriculum and consults with companies to help them reach their ‘utmost’.