07 August 2023 |

Does team culture really matter?

By Hebba Youssef

Ever work somewhere where you loved your team culture but disliked the overall culture of the organization or vice versa? 🙋🏾‍♀️

You’re not alone. 

When team culture and company culture are aligned it can be a beautiful synergy of a unified and cohesive culture. Sounds ideal. 🤝 

But, if team and company culture are wildly different it can lead to conflicts, misunderstandings, and overall disconnect. This feels more like the norm? 😬

A disconnected team:

  • Is isolated 
  • Struggles to communicate
  • Operates in a silo
  • Struggles with cross functional collaboration 

This team might experience:

  • Higher attrition  
  • Lower engagement 
  • Frequent miscommunications 

The one person most directly responsible for a team’s culture? 

The manager. 

Last week I wrote about how to spot bad leaders to help avoid your company culture becoming toxic.   

This week I have 3 tips for managers trying to build great team culture. 

#1: Learn how to effectively communicate: 

Communication is key and frankly, no one does it well. 

Why? Because we’ve all learned how to communicate differently, our lived experience impacts how we communicate. 

Managers have to communicate:

  • Role scope 
  • Expectations
  • Goals
  • Performance feedback
  • Hard news  

That’s a lot of chances to say the wrong thing… 

How to communicate effectively: 

  • Choose the right medium: don’t be slacking wild things, a lot of feedback and the convos above must be done live. Slack is great for follow up though. 
  • Be clear: do not use corporate jargon or skirt around what the conversation is about 
  • Actively listen: minimize distractions and avoid interrupting 
  • Use empathy: this is the biggest mistake I see happen, that managers don’t stop to think how could this conversation make the other person feel? Are there any sensitives I should consider? 
  • Ask open ended questions: Asking questions like, what are your thoughts, how do you feel about, how might we improve, etc

Additional reading: I wrote a whole series about how to navigate tough convos at work!  

One thing a manager can do RIGHT NOW to improve communication: Ask your team their preferred style of communication. 

#2: Give your team autonomy: 

I remember being a new manager and wanting to decide everything.

Power trip anyone?  😂

Autonomy is a beautiful thing for your team and one of the best ways to build a great team culture!


Because it shows your team you trust them and when your team feels empowered to make decisions they are more engaged!

Spoiler alert: step one to giving your team autonomy is to effectively communicate their role, expectations and scope of work. See: tip #1! 

See what I did there? 

Additional reading: 7 tips to boost employee autonomy 

#3: Recognize & Appreciate 

To feel seen and acknowledged for your hard work is one of the most powerful feelings at work. 

But it doesn’t happen enough! 

BTW: There’s a difference between recognition and appreciation, and employees need both. 

Recognition: acknowledging an accomplishment, milestone or contribution and employee makes that are aligned with company or team goals. Think: what someone did 

Appreciation: an expression of gratitude not necessarily tied to achievements. Think: who someone is

Recognition and appreciation play a key role in employee engagement, morale and satisfaction

Spoiler alert: Your employees need recognition at least once a week

To do: set a calendar reminder for once a week to make sure you are recognizing and appreciating your team. 

Don’t forget: be mindful of who you are recognizing. It shouldn’t be the same person or some group of people every time! 

Additional reading: 50 ways to recognize employees 

What role does HR play in supporting managers building team culture?

I could not help myself with that GIF because sometimes that’s what it feels like working in HR. Also a HIMYM fan. 

The 1 thing HR teams shouldn’t do?

Know that there is an issue with a team manager and not do anything about it. 

Intervention is key here. 

If you start to notice a certain team:

  • Has higher attrition 
  • Seems disengaged 
  • Is afraid of their manager 
  • Is consistently avoiding answering surveys 
  • Won’t come to HR with team issues
  • Is missing deadlines or deliverables 

🚨 Alarm bells should be going off and intervention is needed! 🚨

In an ideal world we could maybe fire all the bad managers in the world. 

But don’t forget the very system that made them managers: yours. 

As hard as that is to hear, we know sometimes bad managers are the outcome of our own doing. EVEN ME. 

Intervening early enough can lead to a better outcome!

To intervene: 

  • Collect feedback from employees AND managers: either surveys or listening tours, just make sure you’re collecting feedback from all parties and using that feedback to inform which of the next steps you need to pursue. 
  • Work with leadership to set expectations: be clear about what you expect from your managers and what isn’t okay. 
  • Customize training to what your managers need! Ask as part of your surveys and have managers rank their most important training. 
  • Mediate: sometimes HR needs to get in there and mediate a conflict between a manager and a team. Certified peer mediator here!
  • Seek external support: You can’t do the entire HR job and be a professional coach. If you’re lucky enough to have a budget, explore a potential external solution. 
  • Continuous feedback: intervention might be ongoing for months, you cannot intervene once and assume it’s gonna be fixed. It takes a while to truly correct behavior. 

After doing all those steps if you still have an issue with a specific team manager it might be time to take more serious steps. 

You will know when that time comes. 

Next on the culture quest:

I’ve been on a quest this quarter to demystify all the aspects of culture. 

So far, I’ve covered values and leadership! 

Next on the quest? Internal communications, or as I like to say: HR’s newest job.