Encouraging Positive and Productive Team Cultures

March 19, 2019

Encouraging Positive and Productive Team Cultures

How effectively do your organization’s teams operate? If yours is like the majority of companies, the only thing that gets measured, monitored, and rewarded is how teams perform.

The challenge is that how teams operate—the quality of their team culture—is as important as how teams perform.

In an environment where results are the “only important thing,” HR professionals can help team leaders make small but significant changes in the way they manage their teams—and help team leaders make respect as important as results.

Why is that important? How will teams and your company benefit?

When teams (or departments or divisions) enjoy a purposeful, positive, productive culture, three things happen.

  1. Engagement goes up—by 40 percent or more. 
  2. Customer service goes up—by 40 percent or more. 
  3. Results and profits go up—by 35 percent or more—all within 18 months of team leaders engaging in proactive culture refinement. 

If retaining and attracting talented, engaged team members is important to your organization, Deloitte’s 2018 Millennial Survey provides powerful insights. For example, 52 percent of millennials rate work culture as a top priority when considering an employer. 

Deloitte’s study indicated that only 48 percent of millennials believe businesses behave ethically and with integrity today—down 17 percent from last year’s ratings. It’s not surprising that this study found 43 percent of millennials expect to leave their current employer within the next two years. Even worse—61 percent of Gen Zs expect to leave in that same timeframe.

Team work cultures around the globe are not as engaging, validating, constructive, or productive as they need to be today.

There is a better way. Culture change doesn’t require a full-blown, company-wide initiative. HR professionals can inspire team leaders to improve the quality of their work culture with a few subtle tweaks.

Tweak 1—Formalize ground rules for civil interactions.
Team leaders can create the foundation for effective team operations by formalizing ground rules for civil, respectful interactions.

Just as teams and team members have specific results expectations—what they produce daily, these ground rules create specific respect expectations—how they are to treat others in daily interactions.

A team’s list of ground rules—they only need four to five total in the list—must be in the form of “I” statements (which describe what individuals are expected to do) and be stated in desired terms, describing how you want people to interact.


  • I engage everyone in a friendly, respectful manner.
  • I do what I say I will do.
  • I willingly and freely engage in constructive dialogue.
  • I hold myself and others accountable for team commitments.
  • I selflessly support and execute team decisions.
  • I seek and genuinely listen to others’ opinions. 
  • I come to work through choice, not necessity.

You’ll notice that these ground rules are stated in observable, measurable, behavioral terms. They’re not about “attitudes” (which by definition are internal dynamics). They describe how you want people treat each other, which is much more actionable.

Tweak 2—Leaders must model the ground rules consistently.
Leaders build credibility for the ground rules by demonstrating them in every interaction daily. This tweak is critically important; if leaders do not embrace these behaviors, the clear message to team members is that “they’re just words on a wall—we can go back to our old ways.”

When leaders model these behaviors—and ask team members for feedback on how well leaders are modeling these behaviors—the ground rules shift from “like to have” to “my boss thinks these are important enough to demonstrate herself/himself.”

Tweak 3—Hold everyone accountable for modeling the ground rules.
This important tweak—actively coaching team members to demonstrate the team’s ground rules daily—is how the team’s work culture actually shifts.

Simply formalizing and announcing the ground rules won’t change the team culture as desired. Only when leaders model the ground rules and proactively coach the ground rules will that shift actually happen.

Leaders must be fully present and actively engage every team member daily by:

  • Observing interactions between individual players and in meetings,
  • Praising aligned behaviors promptly, and
  • Redirecting misaligned behaviors promptly.

Aligning behaviors to team ground rules won’t happen casually. Team leaders must invest time and energy daily to model those rules and coach those rules.

With these three tweaks—encouraged by HR professionals—team leaders can create “pockets of excellence” in their departments and divisions.

Without these three tweaks, the health of your team culture is at risk.

Invest the time. Creating and sustaining a purposeful, positive, productive work culture isn’t easy—but it’s simple. And, it’s worth it.

The Authors: 

S. Chris Edmonds is Founder and CEO of the Purposeful Culture Group.