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  • Writer's pictureKate Bradshaw

What Makes a Great Work Culture

“Maintaining an effective culture is so important that it, in fact, trumps even strategy.”– Howard Stevenson

Culture. It’s probably a word you hear often if you follow blogs or read articles on business and management, but what is it exactly?

According to Frances Frei and Anne Morriss at Harvard Business Review:

“Culture guides discretionary behaviour and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.”

Each work culture has different qualities and characteristics, but universally all cultures have something in common, it is about creating a positive and productive working environment so employees can thrive and work to the best of their ability.

The workplace should not be something that people dread. You want people to look forward to work and wanting to spend time with colleagues. Even when the work may be difficult or challenging, its the culture that should alleviate any negative thoughts or doubts and enable people to feel good about themselves and the work they are doing. This is why culture matters. Culture sustains employee enthusiasm.

The benefits of a positive work environment are well-documented: Creativity, productivity and happiness go up while, like a counterweight, stress levels sink significantly. Here are seven tips we use to build a work environment where our team can thrive:

1. Begin with gratitude

We strongly believe that it is a privilege, not a right, to work together. Giving people a vehicle to express appreciation for one another in a public forum raises the morale of the entire group, establishes a positive tone for the week and helps people feel acknowledged and valued. Starting with gratitude in any professional situation sets the intention of appreciation, which will permeate throughout the organisation.

2. Create a safe environment

There is nothing more damaging than toxicity in a professional environment. It stifles new ideas and inhibits collaboration. Creating a safe work environment means eliminating negative personalities and respecting every idea, whether it's from an intern or a tenured senior team member. Lead with honesty, integrity and vulnerability to help your employees feel safe.

3. Don't leave your dirty dishes in the sink

This metaphor essentially means, "Don't leave a mess for someone else to clean." There is nothing more frustrating than picking up a project where someone left off to find that files are missing, the work is a mess or someone saved a crucial document to their desktop moments before taking leave.

Not leaving a mess is the functional interpretation, but the emotional definition is, "Respect everyone's time." If someone has to duplicate your efforts or take time away from their daily responsibilities to hunt for a missing document, you are basically saying you don't care about their time. Time is our most valuable currency. When we aren't respectful of our colleagues' time, we are contributing to a negative workplace environment.

4. There are only opportunities in business, not problems

When emotions are high and stress levels skyrocket, even the smallest workplace issues can seem like towering boulders. We tell teams that what they're experiencing isn't a problem; it's an opportunity to reflect, analyse and evaluate so that next time and there's always a next time, we'll do better. Also, we try to find humour in every situation, making people smile by bringing perspective to the situation can quickly lighten a very emotionally charged room.

5. Consistency is key

There are so many new trends in company culture: flex hours, team building, open work spaces, unlimited paid time off, bringing pets to work and the list goes on. It's easy to be tempted by what may seem like worthwhile workplace perks or try to replicate what competitors are offering. However, the same tactics don't work for every company. Above all, we have found that consistency is key for us, rather than being distracted by the latest professional culture craze. Although change can be healthy, disrupting a good thing can be detrimental and affect the cultural balance of your organisation.

6. Encourage positive thinking

Life is short. Why waste time on negative behaviours that don't align with your business' moral compass? We proactively encourage our teams to think positively, at every opportunity. Even when things seem to be spinning out of control or we didn't achieve the result we anticipated, positive thinking will eventually cultivate positive outcomes. Setting weekly, monthly and yearly positive intentions as a group will help to align your team and ensure that everyone is facing toward the same North Star.

7. Don't sacrifice the important for the urgent

It's easy to punt team one-on-ones for an urgent client call or meeting, but that connection with your team is crucial to maintaining a positive workplace culture. As the leader, you are the cheerleader of the company and the glue that binds your organisation together. Without regular connection to your people, the mission, vision and energy of the business can quickly dilute and degrade your cultural fibre. It's okay to reschedule; just don't let important conversations get replaced by urgent demands and deadlines.

Dependability, structure, clarity and meaningful work are all ingredients that, when combined, can culminate in a solid foundation for a positive workplace and these traits will foster excellence, productivity and camaraderie amongst your team.

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