Team cultures that super-charge change
Organisational change capability varies significantly. An organisation’s ability to respond effectively and succeed with change is, more than ever, a powerful competitive differentiator.
However, the term ‘organisational change capability’ alone sounds pretty abstract. For business leaders accustomed to dealing with clear-cut numbers, metrics and results it can be hard to break-down this concept into understandable and actionable chunks.
This begs the question: what are the traits of a change capable business and how do you create them? Below are six organisational culture traits that fuel an organisational change capability, along with some tips on how to bring them to life.
They have highly ‘team oriented’ mindsets
People that care deeply about the team’s success adopt change faster than those who care predominately about themselves. If the change clearly benefits the team, they’ll get on board. They know what benefits the team, will inevitably benefit them. They want to be on the winning team.
As organisations have many teams within them, it is also important that the team oriented mindset applies to the whole organisation, not just their direct team or business unit. Cross-functional teams and communities of practice that span divisions can nurture this mindset outside one’s own patch.
People become team oriented when they:
- Know their peers personally and professionally
- Understand the value of their peers and other teams within the organisation
- Are highly engaged in the organisation’s vision and strategy
- See commonalities between themselves and their peers – such as having aligned purpose and consistently demonstrated cultural norms.
- They have ambitious organisational goals and set personal stretch goals
Change capable organisations clearly answer that life-defining question: why are we here? And the answer is powerful, yet scarily challenging.
Big, Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) as they’re often termed, bring people together and motivate them to inject passion, energy and team work into daily efforts to realise major achievements and avoid failure. If the goal is too easy, it won’t necessitate a sizeable behaviour change.
- Whatever goal you think is achievable for the team or organisation, multiply it 1.5 to 2 times or broaden it to have bigger market, industry or societal impact.
- Ensure every team member has a definitive ‘stretch goal’ in their objectives. This should scare them a little but with your encouragement and support as their leader, they’ll get motivated. Better yet, if they achieve it, their confidence and engagement will sky-rocket.
They are relentless improvers
The change capable org not only knows that business improvement is necessary to achieve their ambitious goals, they have a relentless passion and pride for upgrading.
When problems, churn, inefficiency and frustration arise, some teams respond by venting, complaining or simply going quiet and accepting the pain as status quo. For the improvement-focused, change capable team however, this spells opportunity and a chance to make a difference. It triggers them to pull affected people together, define the problem, brainstorm and identify options to present to leaders.
Leaders nurture this culture in the way they frame problems to direct reports, focusing language on the future instead of lamenting the past.
» Instead of saying: “Who is to blame for this?”
» Say: “How should we do this better next time?”
Leveraging the team’s strengths and orienting them to the future motivating and empowering. Highlighting weakness freezes momentum.
» Instead of saying: “How could this happen?”
» Say: “What’s the best outcome from here?”
The past cannot be changed, future focus drives progress and efficiency
» Instead of saying: “Let’s talk more about the problem”
» Ask a team member to lead the fix and say: “Consult the team and come back to me with at least three options to improve this and the pros and cons of each”
This empowers team members to create and own the solution which will keep them accountable for success later on.
They value and appoint inspiring leaders
When we think of inspiring leadership, we often think of world leaders like Martin Luther King Jnr, Nelson Mandela or the Dalai Lama. You may not realise but many of their traits are present in organisational leaders. However, to be truly inspiring, you don’t just need some of their traits – you need ALL of them. The traits include:
- They have a clear vision for change, to create something better
- They communicate their vision with clarity, bringing it to life with relatable examples
- They are passionate about their cause and express emotion as they know that’s what drives them and others to action
- They genuinely care about people – not just those close to them but society and humanity more broadly
- They value respect but can compromise being liked as they know change is controversial and will ruffle some people’s feathers
Because of these traits, inspiring leaders create a mass of loyal followers and are highly trusted. Hence when the time comes to change, their followers move forward decisively.
They value and nurture effective followership
Watch the YouTube video First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy and you’ll see, a lone person is not a leader until the followers arrive and ‘first followers’ play a key role in proving the value and motivating others to join the tribe.
All leaders need trusted lieutenants, that is first followers who have the trust of the broader team and will jump on board change quickly, thus bringing others along with them.
Nurture your first followers by:
- Identifying who they are. They may not be in your leadership team. They could be formal or informal leaders of teams, experts and team assistants who have broad networks and exert influence.
- Bringing them into your inner circle by involving them in strategic planning early and often
- Nurture personal relationships and trust with them
- When change looms, seek their formal commitment and support early and address their reservations
- Keep them highly engaged so they can sustain the role
They have effective communication and collaboration networks
Communication comes in many forms. Those that rely on plain, non-engaging formats like email and think that communication is top-down or one-way, usually struggle to rally the troops to shift.
Just as contagions thrive and expand with human interaction, culture evolves with communication and collaboration. Without it, there is no culture, just individuals with personal mindsets and behaviours. Pull the individuals together and a culture will be cultivated.
The form of that culture is influenced by everyone within it as they share their thoughts. Leaders tend to be more influential in shaping culture as they garner the attention of so many when they speak and act. This is the case with formal leaders (e.g. the CEO, GM etc.) as well as informal leaders (e.g. the team assistants or the 30-year veterans who know everyone).
To evaluate the effectiveness of your communication and collaboration networks, the key questions to ask are:
- Are we providing regular opportunities for formal leaders to speak and act in front of team members so they can shift behaviours toward the target culture?
- Are we providing regular opportunities for leaders to listen to team members at all levels (i.e. not through the middle-management filter) to truly understand the culture strengths and weaknesses?
- Who in the organisation epitomises our target culture and how can we connect them with more people in the organisation?
- What creative, new channels can we establish to facilitate the flow of awareness, knowledge and desire to affect change?
What other traits embody change capable culture?
How would you describe the culture of the most change-capable teams you’ve worked in?
What steps could you take today to improve the culture of your team?