New Research: How Robust Cultures Get That Way

These days, teams work in far-flung places and communicate electronically more than in person. What is the glue that holds teams together?

For years, it seemed as though business leaders would strive to build great work cultures, but still fall short. At a corporate strategy session I recently facilitated, the topic of “culture” came up 18 times and was on every small group’s list of issues to tackle. As I probed, people seemed resolute about wanting a productive and ethical culture, but were less specific about how to achieve it. With recent headlines faulting “culture” for the pervasive sexual harassment situation in Hollywood, for example, the question of how to improve culture is back on the front burner.

What’s the big mystery?

Curious about what the latest research had to say, my team got busy analyzing recent studies. We found plenty. In all, we narrowed it down to 23 salient studies and case studies on corporate culture, representing 13 industries. There were studies on the impact of shared values, shared vision, and common sense of mission as drivers of desirable work cultures.

To be sure, all these ingredients flavor the stew. But we wanted to boil it down.

Here’s what we learned: it comes down to just two things. First,people need to feel they can trust their supervisors to do the right thing. Or they need to believe in their own power to make good things happen. Either will do. The combination is robust, and is often found in highly innovative environments.

Consider also that the sense of “self” that we build around our workplace persona is valuable to the culture as a whole. When we are able to say, “I am someone who is trustworthy” the research shows that we are more likely to behave in such a way to support that identity. This sense self is a powerful motivator, says the research. It inspires us to make better choices. And as others do the same, the identity creates a ripple affect among the team members. If you think about it, this is the basis for good will.

If you want to weave a new fabric between people at work or in your community, your timing is perfect. As we enter the holiday season, you may be planning ways to thank people and motivate them in the New Year, consider what you can do to build more trust. Elevate the players who are trusted.

As in all matters, excellence begins with individuals. Ask yourself, “What I can be relied upon for?”

The answer is the secret to a better culture.