Defining Our Ideal Team Culture
Due to our company’s Agile transformation I had the opportunity to start with a whole new team. Some of our new team members already knew each other from previous teams, others didn’t know each other at all. In the first weeks things didn’t go that smooth. It was clear that under the surface we weren’t on the same page as it came to expectations, vision, way of working, etc. And even though we tried to make agreements, we didn’t quite manage to find each other. We all wanted to do something about it so I prepared a team session to dive under the surface and talk about what culture we want to create together. With the aim to build a firm foundation for our team.
Discussing Team Culture
I asked the team:
1.What kind of culture do you wish for our team? Write on post-its words that describe your ideal team culture.
We took some time for silent writing and after that we discussed everyone’s input. Things like ‘openness’, ‘a sense of togetherness’, ‘respect’, ‘room for creativity’, and much more were mentioned. For the first time we felt literally on the same page, because everybody longed for the same thing: a positive team culture in which they could be themselves.
After that I asked the team:
2. How do you want to feel in this team?
Again, at the core everybody longed for the same things. Psychological safety, a sense of belonging, appreciation, having each other’s back.
3. After that I wanted to ask the next question: What kind of behavior do we need in our team to build this culture? But because of time pressure we decided to move on to the exercise and plan the conversation on behavior another time.
The Team Culture Scale – Where do you stand?
Then I made a circle on the ground. The circle symbolized our ideal team culture, as we had just defined it. I drew an imaginary scale on the ground from one to ten. The number one was on the far end of the room, the number ten in the heart of the circle. Then I asked the team members: where do you stand in relation to our admired team culture? How far away or how close?
I asked them to physically take a position on the scale and gave them some time to feel if they were standing in the right place. Some team members stood quite close to the admired culture, while others were standing further away.
One by one I asked them to tell the others about their position. My questions were:
- Could you tell us about your position? What makes you stand there?
- What does it feel like to stand there?
- What would you need to be able to shift towards the admired culture?
It turned out, there was a lot to talk about. During the exercise some team members already stepped closer towards the admired culture, because of the openness and positive atmosphere.
After everybody had spoken their minds I asked them to do an experiment, to move from their place and step into the circle that stood for the desired culture. As we stood in the circle, I asked them one by one what it felt like to stand there. I asked:
- How does it make you feel to stand in this circle, together with your team members?
- Can you feel what it would be like to have this safe, open, creative culture?
For some team members it felt really good, for others it was inconvenient to take a leap like that, they preferred to take a small step. There was no judgment, everyone’s response was ok. It was a very intense session in which people spoke their mind and took the effort to listen to each other.
Digital Exercise on Team Culture
This exercise is extremely powerful if you are in the same room together. It helps people to really feel their position on the walking scale and their relation to each other. If you have a distributed team however, a great alternative is to work with a digital board with avatars, like this.
Quite some time later now, we still refer back to this meeting as a pivotal point in our team development. Our collaboration and mutual understanding has improved greatly and the atmosphere in the team has been way better ever since.
My biggest learning: Focus on the positive really works! Talking about the positive things that we collectively desire created a great atmosphere, and helped to hold the space in which difficulties could be addressed and acted upon.
Do you need more positivity in your teams? Also have a look at Tree of Life – Positivity Retrospective.