Company cultureLeadership

NEW YEAR GUIDE TO Aligned Teams

HOW IS IT RELEVANT TO YOU?

If you have decided to read this blogpost, you are probably well aware of the importance of alignment in your team. We hope this guide will help you to determine whether everything works well in your team and identify gaps where there is still room for improvement.

Before jumping into the guide, let us elaborate shortly on why this topic is timelier than ever.

Working remotely is not the exception anymore. The number of remote workers is increasing. Companies have several offices around the world with the headquarters in one country and the development team in another one. It’s not a rare phenomena anymore, that each member of the team is sitting in a different country. In addition to that, many people work from home. For instance, many corporations follow the example of IBM who, with its restricted home-office policy, is a pioneer in this area of remote working. Furthermore, independently from the sector, freelancing is becoming a more attractive way of employment especially among the younger generations, who don’t plan to stay at one job for decades. They look for flexibility, learning opportunities and new challenges, which a 9-5 job cannot offer. They often juggle several projects and are involved with a number of companies simultaneously.

All these factors make team collaboration one of the most important topics when we talk about the future workplaces. More and more companies are joining the line of service providers who deliver solutions to future teams to become more connected, despite physical distance. Their tools increase the speed of information flow, make communication effortless due to different functionalities or, open up new dimensions for collaboration through augmented reality.

Just to mention a few examples: At the end of 2017 Facebook launched its Workplace Chat app to provide a communication tool for teams. Microsoft announced the modern workplace and connected teams as one of the pillars of its main solution areas for digital transformation.  

However when we talk about the future workplaces, there is a very important aspect which we should keep in mind: the human factor. Technology alone is not enough to improve collaboration. There are some cultural aspects which have to be present and aligned in order for these tools to work well. Alignment  enables efficient teamwork and determines the level of success companies can reach.

TOP 7 ASPECTS OF COMPANY CULTURE FOR ALIGNED TEAM

1. PURPOSE

This is the key reason why an organization exists and gives the organization direction and guidance for decision-making. On the other hand it also gives strength to go on in difficult times as the organization is striving for something bigger than itself.

Way too often though, this purpose is unknown to the team members or they do not agree with it. This not only harms interpersonal relationships but productivity as well.

Most of today’s enterprises are still mainly profit-oriented, so they see their purpose as one of making money. However, this is not entirely accurate; even though it may seem that the purpose of companies is merely to make money, when they were first founded, they probably had purposes other than “just” making money. Of course every company has to make profit to survive. But if profit would be the only purpose of a company’s existence, then why, for example, is it a retail store and not a car manufacturer or a private university? Maybe the leadership of the company knows the evolutionary purpose but it’s not passed down onto the employees. Or as the company grew through the years, even they’ve may have got disconnected from it.

Now, some organizations are clear about their (evolutionary) purpose and find it important that the whole organization lives it. For example Patagonia, the U.S. based clothing brand, “use(s) [its brand] to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”. They are not only clear about their purpose but they hire people who share this mission. This common purpose makes  employees work passionately, which drives up productivity measures and enables Patagonia to outperform all its competitors.

If you experience disconnection from the mission in your company, reconnecting with the purpose or even redefining it, can bring many positive changes. Maybe your company has been in the market for so long that no one know its purpose any more. Then this is the perfect chance for you to establish a new purpose with the involvement of your team.

2. VALUES

What is important to you as an organization? Maybe it's status, performance and competition; or team spirit, equality and fairness; or it might be integrity, meaning and individual responsibility, etc. All answers are fair and valid. However, what is most important is to be clear about what your company’s values are. This not only helps you recruit accordingly but also helps you make consistent decisions about who you will reward, promote, or let go. Find people with similar values, who love your purpose and chances are that you will build a winning team.

This is not only important for keeping up the motivation but also helps cooperation in the team. Oftentimes values are held unconsciously and can lead to personal conflicts. Sometimes you are forced by your environment to adopt certain values but personal value systems are rooted so deeply that it can be nearly impossible to change one’s values unless the person truly wants to. Even then, it can be a long and difficult process.

One of the fundamental values when it comes to company culture is trust. Trust is tricky, as it is one of the most difficult values to implement. It is hard to earn and very easy to lose it. How much do you trust in yourself, in your teammates, in your organization? These questions all influence the relationships in the team and the treatment of each other within an organization. Trust manifests in the smallest actions at work, like: “Can you please answer this email for me?”, or “Can you stand in for me at the meeting please?”. If something unexpected happens, trust can disappear; an ill-considered answer to an email, a missed meeting... Being able to keep the trust when such situations occur is an artform.

What are the values in your organization? Have you ever defined them? If you would ask your team what the values are, would they say similar things? Not having the values defined doesn’t mean that there is no alignment in your team. Ask your team about the values and see what answers you get. An open discussion at a team retreat and a survey can be good tools to figure out where you stand in the value department.

3. BELIEFS

Once I had to select one of my team members for termination. My supervisor came to me on day and told me I needed to choose somebody from my team, as did all other team leaders. “We need to save money, you know”, he said. Although I was grateful that he did the hard part of the actual firing, I didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye to that person. My boss had a talk with him, he was then accompanied to his table where he packed everything up and his user account was then blocked and he no longer existed to the company.

That company believed that employees cannot be trusted after they are fired. They were feared to harm the organization in their anger or disappointment. What that organization believed, shaped the thinking and treatment of its employees from the selection process all the way to the conclusion of contracts.

What beliefs are there in your company which influence team morale? Do they support effective teamwork or create obstacles to collaboration?

4. NORMS AND PRACTICES

Organizations have written and unwritten norms. If you conform to them you are accepted, otherwise you might have a hard time fitting into the team. These norms are strongly dependent on the values and beliefs of the organization. Discrepancies appear when company norms differ from the norms of individuals.

For instance, if work-life balance is an important value to you and you leave the office earlier while everybody else is stays late, or if you don’t answer your emails on a Sunday evening while others do, it might seem that you are letting your team down. Others will become frustrated with you and you will also become unhappy because the expectations contradict  your personal values. This will definitely have a negative effect on team collaboration.

Every teams is different; some prefer not to be disrupted during work, so they accept emails instead, while others like to get things done quickly and discuss issues as they come up, even if this causes interruptions outside of office hours.

There is no right or wrong way to do things. You need to find ways which best  suits you and your team and recruit people who share your norms. This will be better for everyone in the long run.

5. PROCESSES AND SYSTEMS

Organizations use different processes to deal with work and work relationships. These practices are a strong reflection of the organisation’s values. Often when you enter offices you see the company values hanging on the wall. Unfortunately those values are not actively lived. The way to elicit a company’s values is by observing its practices.
For example, let’s consider a bonus system: if individuals get rewarded based on their performance and they receive financial incentives, we are talking about organizations that value status and performance. They create an internal competition in order to motivate people and achieve higher results. Bonus systems that reward a team as opposed to individuals, recognize the common effort and strengthen team work.
How people get promoted is another example of the alignment of processes and systems with the core values of an organization. Mostly managers are promoted by their supervisors, again based on performance: the best salesman becomes the head of sales for instance. Others find it more important that a manager has people skills and some organizations such as Haufe Umantis, actually democratically elect their managers.

Think about the values of your company and see if practices are aligned with them. Do people live the values or is there a disconnection between what the values should be and what they actually are? If you think there are discrepancies, it is time to address these issues. Are there any values that you would like to see in the organization? You may not be the only one.

6. NARRATIVE

It is fascinating how organizations see and talk about themselves. For example, what kind of stories, symbols and language they use. An organization in the midst of a transformation is usually referred to as “being on a journey”. Some describe the company as a spaceship or see the team as a sports team. Pictures help us understand our position in an organization and create an emotional bond to the respective topic. How an organization sees itself is also generated by its internal values and beliefs: are we a machine, a family or a natural ecosystem. These metaphors all influence company culture and determine how teams work together. If you hear from your manager say: “we are at war with other teams” it is very likely that whenever it comes to cooperation with other teams, it won’t be as effective as it could be in the case of aligned teams.  

How do you see yourself as an organization? Do your images and communication support team collaboration?

7. PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT  

Knowledge workers still spend most of their time in offices. No wonder this also shapes the culture and the mood in the office. By looking at the office space you can tell a lot about the culture in the organization.  Do people work in an open space or separate small offices? In an open space you can have more interactions, while closed offices value privacy and focus.

Is your office colourful, creative, with a lot of accessoires, flowers, pictures, games? Does it have a terrace or a park? Is it located in the city center or on a beach? These are all the manifestations of the company's culture. If your culture supports teamwork and the environment provides space for interaction, it has a good effect on team collaboration.

In a nutshell, there are 2 principles, that need to be applied for a company or a team to be successful:

  1. Individuals need to accept the purpose, values and beliefs of the organization and better still to personally identify with it. So recruit accordingly and make sure new staff are fully involved and committed by allowing them to co-create the values.
  2. All elements of the company culture must be aligned to each other in order to guarantee integrity and authenticity.

Which values do your company have? Are all elements aligned in your company? We would love to hear your opinion, please comment below.

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