It’s recognized these days that workplace culture has a significant impact on employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity. But how do leaders know if the culture they think they have is aligned with the actual experience of the people on the team? How do we — with intention — create a team culture that people want to be a part of?
Culture is the collective agreement about who we are, what we value, and what the standards and norms are for people like us. It’s how things are done around here. Even when a team intends to cultivate a certain kind of culture at the outset, something unintended usually emerges within that culture. Why? Because the unconscious will lead.
If a leader states: “this is who we are and this is how things are around here” and it doesn’t match the collective current running through the team, you’ve got a problem. Top-down culture creation only works if it’s modeled, not if it’s directed. Creating a work culture that deviates from the wider culture we’re all a part of can be hard. We all bring our baggage to work. It takes time and trust. It takes steady practice to shine light on what’s driving the collective unconscious, thus making it conscious. And then bringing intention and cohesion to what to do about it.
This is a particularly interesting quandary as it pertains to entrepreneurs whose product or service centers around human development. Coaches, teachers, therapists, guides and other developmental professionals have a unique challenge and opportunity when it comes to their company culture and the work they’re putting out. That is ensuring that their work’s philosophical underpinnings, values and developmental frameworks are woven into the fabric of their business practices and team development. When this isn’t consciously attended to, a shadow culture can develop where ‘how we do things around here’ is actually in conflict with the very principles and practices being sold and espoused. Without meaning to, it can feel like ‘we don’t walk our talk’, even when everyone’s intentions are that we do.
It’s one thing to offer these innovations out to customers and see the benefits, it’s a whole other layer of potential when applying and practicing within our own teams and communities and hopefully these leaders are up for the challenge. Because this kind of self and system awareness is hard. Especially once a leader starts to identify with the sanctity of their work or offerings, they can be put (or put themselves) in guru positions. Without fully knowing it, can feel as though they need to uphold an infallible role and image. This can make humble self-examination feel like death.
Growing and developing with others, intentionally, can be really rewarding and create a sense of belonging, responsibility and empowerment that our future’s leaders have decried as a real missing. It can also be time consuming, destabilizing and scary. We have been taught that control and expertise go hand in hand with leadership. We’re supposed to know where we’re going and how to do it and be steady at the helm. The power dynamics ingrained in any hierarchy will contribute to the emergence of culture. How we attend to those dynamics are important. The leaders that I’ve seen create really cohesive cultures are both able to take a stand and also bring a great deal of humility to the table. They can look at and own their shit, taking responsibility for any unintended negative impacts of how they show up, all while having the spine and holding the standards that require everyone else to do the same.
There are a lot of businesses right now that are out to liberate, empower and heal their customers and communities. Myself included. Where I see the real test of our capacity and impact being, is close in. In how we’re carrying out our intentions day to day with our people and practices. Not just what we’re making, selling and building, but how. How are we consciously carrying out our ideals in the relational circles we touch? From our spouses and children to neighbours and baristas. What are our priorities when it comes to our vendors and staff? If what we find when we look closely and honestly are threads of hypocrisy, we’re not bad people, we just have more work to do. These are the meta responsibilities of being a conscious leader and our best shot at creating cultures that thrive.
If you want to start investigating the culture you’ve created, start asking questions. Bring curiosity to your team, family or community and their experience of ‘how things are done around here’. Look for patterns, not only in what you hear, but also what you don’t hear, or what you sense is being withheld. If you find yourself unsure of where to go next, and long to create something new, inspiring and vibrant within your team culture, hit me up.