team culture

5 Ingredients in Developing a Strong Team Culture

This morning I had the opportunity to go to the Next Level Indiana Fund Summit. It was an event where members of the capital venture arena addressed what the scene looks like here in Indiana. These members included government officials, representatives from the various funds, and entrepreneurs who had successfully built their businesses through funding. As I listened to these talks, a particular concept came up to me again and again. Each organization had a strong team culture.

What’s a Strong Team Culture Look Like?

When you think of a team culture, you might think of a particular sports team. I’ve written about various examples of sports teams with great cultures in the past. Duke Basketball, Duke Football, and the Colts are recent examples.

From these examples, we can see that culture is made up of certain parts. A culture has values, beliefs, attitudes and the certain behaviors that are important to the team. We can also see that if culture isn’t intentionally defined from the start, it will likely be defined by the weakest link.

If we let it get this far, then that’s when we feel we have to implement all kinds of precise rules, processes, and systems.  When this happens, members of the team feel like their personal perspective doesn’t matter. It demotivates your A-Team members. That becomes a much bigger problem REAL quick!

Essentially this is what we saw with the Colts when Ryan Grigson was General Manager. While he might have been a great talent scout and brought in a few good assets to the team, unfortunately, he didn’t set the right culture. Therefore, when then coach Chuck Pagano had to do his job, he practically had to babysit the players for every play. Unfortunately, he wasn’t too great at being a micro-manager and we ended up with plays like this. As a result, over time there was an overall feeling of distrust between the players, coaching staff, and the front office.

When Chris Ballard came in to take the reigns, he knew this had to change. So, from the very get-go, he started to define the new culture of the team. Add in Frank Reich last season, and you have a team of high trust, where the effective players believe in each other, the organization, and where it’s going.

Building a Strong Culture

So now that we have a bit of an idea of what a bad culture can yield vs a good culture, how do we build a strong one?

A good example of building a strong culture can, again, be seen in this recent post about the Duke football team.

But if I was to summarize that particular post, there’s a few takeaways that we need to have.

1. Single Team Vision

The first thing we need to realize is that while a team might have many voices, it has one mission and one vision. This means that the vision is a team effort – including the leadership. When they act and do things a particular way, the team will take notice and start to do what they see leadership doing.

Meaning, if the leadership wants the team to put in the hard work, they’ll have to put in work first.

Remember there’s no such thing as leading from behind.

2. Abundant Belief

The next thing we should notice is that a winning team believes that it is a winning team. This means that the leaders believe in the team, the team believes in each other and the leadership, and even more so, each individual on the team believes in themselves.

3. Appreciation of Ourselves and the Team

Many times, we leaders have a hard time appreciating our own little wins. Reason often is that we’re so focused on accomplishing the vision that the little wins we have along the way, don’t really count. They’re what’s supposed to happen. We might feel a little bit of satisfaction, but that’s about it.

However, when something doesn’t go quite the way we want it, that’s when we usually get somewhat emotional. And it’s because of this tendency that many of us tend to get sucked up into a downward emotional spiral.

That being the case, as leaders, we need to so gratitude towards our own accomplishments as well as those of our team members. If you need help with this, there’s a few resources I’d recommend. The first is the Five Minute Journal. If you’re not familiar with this journal, it’s an actual daily journal that helps you appreciate the things that went right during the day. That way you can get in the habit of appreciating what’s going right for you personally. If a hands on version isn’t your style, there’s an app for both iOS and Android.

Then, there’s the 5 Love Languages. And while many think this is for romantic relationships, there’s actually an edition for the workplace. This book is useful when you’re trying to learn how to show your appreciation of those in your immediate circle.

And last but not least is the John Maxwell book called the 25 Ways to Win with People. If you’re familiar with his book called Winning with People, then you’ll want to grab this whenever you need a refresher.

4. Active Participation in Team Discussions

One of the things I’ve noticed with winning teams is that all members of the team have a chance to input their thoughts on what’s going on. As a leader, it’s your job to help the members of your team feel that they’re welcome to offer their input. Of course the best way to get them to do this is to ask more questions. And when they respond, actually pay attention and get clarity on what they’re saying.


When we pay attention to the members of our team, we can bring out the best in them.

5. Live with Intention

As with all things, we need to keep focus on the fundamentals. So, it’s important that we keep our vision in front of us. If you work with your team in person, put the vision somewhere where people are constantly reminded of it. For example, the Colts have done this by issuing a shirt that reads 1-0 – meaning do what you can do now to put yourself in a position to win the next game.

With this focus on fundamentals, it’s easier for leadership to develop and uphold a particular standard of work ethic.

Action Steps

Ideally, the best time to start working on a team culture is when you’re new to a position. It was always so much easier for me to set the expectations of a classroom on the first day as opposed to week 5 or later.

However, if you do find yourself in a situation where you need to develop a culture for a team you’ve been leading for awhile, then there’s no better time than now to get started.

Of course, you’ll have to use a little bit of change management to successfully move the team from where they are to where they need to be.

So, a possible suggestion of this is to give them the new vision and let members of the team help you figure out the details in how that’s going to be accomplished. Then once you have the details in place, work on the expectations. How are you going to do things and how will they do what they need to get done? And then after that is determined, work with them on figuring out a process of accountability. What happens when they don’t get a certain task done a certain way and on time?

Using this type of communication will certainly help your team form and develop a new culture.

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