How To Rebuild A Culture

Aug 19, 2019
I had a mess on my hands. After managing people for a little over 2 years my organization was in a shambles. The saddest part of the whole thing was this was my doing. Call it fear, call it self promotion, my motives eroded my team's trust, productivity and overall work quality. But the problems went even deeper. There was gossip, favoritism and one guy was even running a t-shirt business from his desk. A mere year later this team became the best organization in the company, chocked full of rock stars that churned out quality work in a timely manner. We were literally teaming with enthusiasm, ideas and caffeine. This was my dream team. So what happened in that year?
Prior to rock bottom I was a blamer. I blamed everyone and everything. I knew for this change to take place I had to take ownership of my part in this cultural debacle. So I did; 100%. Everything became my fault which was quite powerful. When something is your fault it puts you in the driver's seat to change it.
Getting comfortable with uncomfortable
If I was going to own the mistakes that meant I had to own the changes as well and in order to do that I had to communicate everything to my team. I had let the leaving early, poor work product and running a side business at work stuff go on way too long. Drastic times call for drastic measures. Those drastic measures came in the form of two performance improvement plans and letting one employee go. While this sounds all Dirty Harry badass, I'm ashamed of this step. I let things get so bad I had to bring in HR rules and regulations to clean it up. As the old saying goes, "bad news has a short shelf-life" and in this case maggots were growing in the hard conversations left unsaid.
The missing pieces
In the wake of my hard conversation slasher movie the highest functioning member of the team left the organization. It made sense. I hadn't supported her until recently. But what did support look like? I locked myself in my office and began brainstorming on my whiteboard.
What was the recipe for an unstoppable team?
  • Respect of leadership and team members
  • Everyone was a team player and added a different skill set
  • Favoritism was extinct.
  • Communication was king (good and bad).
  • Gossip was a thing of the past because everyone understood their role and focused on building a successful organization.
  • There was a daily dose of guidance mixed in with personal development.
  • Praise wasn't an endangered species, instead it was doled out regularly and sincerely.
  • The role of the leader was actually as a teacher.
As soon as I finished this list I was excited and panicky about the mountain that needed to be climbed. Deciding to run with excitement I immediately drew upon my favorite teachers all the way back to 4th grade (shout out to Mrs. Adair). A dynamic team needed a dynamic teacher after all.
Square one
I decided to pretend that everyone on my team was new, not simply the 3 new hires coming aboard. Hell I was new too! I formulated a list of everything a functioning member of the team would need to know about the daily job but also how it effected the company as a whole. I flew team members in (some of this team was remote) for a 2 day new member conference. Every department in the company had time on the calendar with my team. Anyone could ask anything. Curiosity was a highly coveted skill. I taught not just what we did but why. I shared my thinking behind how I developed our processes over the years. I got challenged, questioned and persuaded. I made them think, grow and learn and in return they made me do the same.
A continued dialogue
The momentum created from this new member session was electric and I didn't want it to end. I put in to place a weekly group meeting where everyone talked about their biggest issues and wins. I also finished the meeting with something uplifting such as a passage from a book I was reading or a Ted Talk I'd watched recently and then I would talk about how it translated to our latest goals. I created a weekly goals email. It consisted of everything I was thinking about, working on and worried about. I organized it by project and client and if all goals were met I would give out gifts to the key team members that made those goals happen. At the end of the day I didn't do anything magical. I simply cared and communicated. It's embarrassing to admit but truly that's all it took.
But how does one take over an existing team, you may ask?
  • Spend your first 30 days listening and observing.
  • What are the dynamics on this team and are they healthy?
  • What problems does this team keep facing? What’s the running theme?
  • How can my expertise guide and not micromanage this team?
  • What can I learn from each member of this team that will make me a better employee and leader?
One final note
The phrase “because I said so” doesn’t work anywhere unless you are the ruler of a dictatorship. I know my children need to understand why we do things a certain way and so does my team. It’s your job at work AND at home to guide everyone in the direction of productive change while listening to them and growing them into amazing contributors.

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