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Build a Team Culture Where Everyone Feels Like They Belong

Jun. 17, 2019 The Muse

A company’s culture serves as the guiding light for the entire organization. Not only does culture tend to drive leadership decisions, but it often translates to every aspect of the employee experience, from on-boarding to office design.

Leaders know that a strong, inclusive company culture is the backbone of a thriving organization. But what about team culture? Team culture can have just as much, if not more, of an impact—especially in larger companies where people tend to identify with their team more than the company as a whole.

So how do you create a team culture that complements and builds on a company-wide philosophy of growth and inclusion?

We asked Christine Chapman, Software Development Manager at Audible, to give us her insights into how she’s built a culture of collaboration and openness on her team—and how you can do the same for yours.

Channel Company Culture

To create a successful company culture, you need to translate company ideals into tangible experiences. And this is much easier to do on the team level, with the people you work closely with every day. “Team culture can take a company culture to the next level,” says Chapman. “Things that you see on the wall or that are too abstract—they really need to apply to the day-to-day.”

Sit down with your team and identify the aspects of the company’s vision that are most important to your function. For example, a team of designers may prioritize the brand’s aesthetics, while a team of accountants at the same organization might prioritize the company’s principle of transparency.

Together, you can distill the company culture into a manifesto for your team. Is giving back a core value? If that resonates with your team, plan charitable drives or volunteer days. If strong communication resonates most, brainstorm team building activities that incorporate ways to strengthen that.

In Chapman’s case, the team brought to life one of the company’s People Principles, “activate caring,” by making compassion a priority from the hiring process all the way through the day-to-day operations.

Be Intentionally Inclusive

Organization-wide inclusion is a key aspect of a good company culture, but it’s only effective if managers prioritize inclusion every day.

“Our onboarding process helps with a feeling of belonging and connection,” says Chapman. “Breaking into an existing team is hard—we try to make people feel empowered and creative.”

Every new hire at Audible is assigned a mentor on their team—they meet regularly to support the new team member, answer questions in a nonjudgmental way, and guide them through their first months. Chapman takes this a step further and makes sure every member of her team is available and willing to help out new hires.

And this inclusiveness extends to team-building events as well. Make sure to plan a variety of activities so everyone gets to do something they’re interested in. If every activity involves physical fitness or a happy hour, you could be leaving people out. Ask your team what types of events they’d like to participate in and at what times—you can even email a quick survey—then plan team events accordingly.

As you foster inclusivity within a team culture, make sure to create processes for continuous feedback, too. Not only does feedback mean that you can empower your team as a manager, but you can also check your own blind spots.

Foster Personal Growth

Chapman believes that individual growth is the key to her team’s combined performance. She emphasizes the importance of having a growth mindset (believing that you get better at your job—or anything for that matter) through hard work, thoughtful strategies, and feedback from colleagues. And research shows that companies with that type of mindset see higher performance.

Team leaders are in a key position to nurture growth by finding ways to celebrate failure, Chapman says. She chooses to allocate a project based on how it will challenge a team member rather than if it’s easy for them. “We share the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. It’s a safe space for interpersonal risk-taking,” says Chapman.

If everyone knows they can take chances personally and professionally, they’re a lot more likely to invest in possible breakthroughs. A great way to foster this type of growth is to offer monthly sessions where team members can talk through challenging projects they’ve worked on—discussing mistakes they’ve made and lessons they’ve learned.

Chapman balances this “fail-forward” philosophy with a shared celebration of success. “We recently introduced a process for publicly thanking teammates and sharing public feedback. We have a whiteboard where people praise teammates who went above-and-beyond.” If your team doesn’t have a public thanking process in place, suggest they adopt one; or incorporate gratitude call outs into your team meetings.

One of the best things you can do as a professional is prioritize your team culture. Even if you’re not in a formal leadership position, you can support your team members by bringing intention to the way you work. A company’s culture is only as great as the teams that make it up—so start cultivating your team culture today.

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