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How To Establish a Successful Team Culture

Inspired by our work with the skippers of the Clipper Round the World Race, in this blog post we look at how important a successful team culture can be and how you can establish your own within your team.

Why is having a team culture so important?

All other things being equal culture becomes the determining factor between success and failure. In fact, on paper weaker teams have beaten better-resourced teams, simply because they had a stronger culture.  A well-developed team culture means an agreed and explicit set of values and principles, consistently adhered to. They define “how we do things around here” and guide and drive individual and team behaviours. When values are clear they form the basis not only of behaviours but they should make decisions easier. When behaviours are predictable, levels of trust rise.

A strong culture, of course, means team members displaying a number of behaviours which are good practice in any team:

  • High levels of supportiveness both moral and practical, including care and empathy


  • Respect for diversity meaning everybody’s view matters and individual differences are celebrated and used as a source of strength rather than stifled


  • Ego’s left on the gangplank and team ego trumping own ego


  • It’s ok to admit if you don’t know, understand or need help


  • Conflict is resolved quickly and without resentment


  • Generosity of spirit towards the success of others


  • The right level of fellowship


  • Leadership is shared rather than preserved for the few


  • Listening, seeking to understand before being understood


  • The attitude towards mishaps and mistakes is one of openness and learning rather than blaming


  • A mindset of ‘where can I add most value’ and ‘what can I do to make this team a success’ rather than ‘where do I want to be?’ or ‘where is the glory?’

For more behaviours check out last weeks blog post ‘30 behaviours that drive team resilience

Team culture

Apart from these values and behaviours that are useful in any team, context should drive the rest of your values. This means identifying additional behaviours and values that will really matter to your performance because they reflect:

  1. your team’s overall objective and your strategy; whether you want to be the best of the best or just want to give people something that will positively impact their lives, it will require different behaviours
  2. specific risks and challenges you face e.g. you might have a particularly broad age range, you might have differences in fitness, language issues, periods of restructure and a high number of newbies. Having set values and behaviours will help you tackle these
  3. your chosen identity i.e. what you want people to know you for? what do you want people (consumers, senior managers or competitors) to say about you (when you have left the room)?
  4. people’s personal values,  fears, anxieties and risk tolerances


Actions to take that will strengthen your team culture:

Actions speak louder than words…

  • Team exercise on personal values: Get people to reflect on their personal values and try to distil them down to 3 or 4 everybody can sign up to


  • Brainstorm the specific risks and challenges you face as a team and the fears and anxieties people have, then identify 2-3 values and associated behaviours that will help you cope


  •  Get people to answer the questions: “what do we want to be known for?” “What do we want people to see and say about us?” in order to brainstorm your identity. Then identify 1-2 values and associated behaviours that will role model that identity


  • Capture your culture on paper (all values, principles and behaviours, team norms and rules); get people to sign that piece of paper and say that they are giving each other ‘licence to challenge’ them if someone sees them not complying with a value or agreed behaviour


Thank you for taking the time to read our blog! If you have any questions feel free to contact us.
Check back in next Tuesday for more tips on improving team performance.

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Gerry De Vries

Written by Gerry De Vries

Since leaving the Marines in the early 90s and taking his MBA at London Business School, Gerry has become a specialist in turning businesses around. His particular expertise lies in improving performance through effective leadership and culture change. He has played a leading role, as Management Team member, Interim Manager and Consultant, in a number of strategic turnarounds and optimisation projects, across different industries. He has led over 35 teams globally and worked with leaders at all levels including Executive and Ministerial.

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