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5 Areas to focus on for staff success

Team culture: 5 areas to focus on for staff success

5 min read
  • Leadership & teamwork

Gathering a group of professionals together to work in a team should be an energising, stimulating, and productive process. Pooling expertise and sharing ideas in open discussions, in the pursuit of improving the way that you work, what could be more noble and worthwhile?

Except, we don’t always work well in teams. Perhaps it’s down to time, workload, or more likely, not knowing how to get the best out of a group. Studies have found that while we believe teamwork to be a key element to our organisation’s success, much fewer of us believe our teams are currently fulfilling this ambition.

In this blog, written by The Power of Teams author Sam Crome, we’ll explore how you can improve team culture and create a firm, evidence-informed foundation from which to build your team’s dynasty.

1. Vision and purpose

Your team must have a clear vision for who it is, what it does, and what it wants to achieve. Richard Hackman called this “compelling direction”, which can be agreed by the team but is ultimately set by the team’s leader, so that others have something to aim towards.

Katzenbach and Smith discuss in The Discipline of Teams that the best teams spend a lot of time “exploring, shaping, and agreeing on a purpose that belongs to them both collectively and individually”, which continues throughout the life of the team, and not just at the start of a year or project.

2. Values and behaviours

A grandiose team vision can fall flat if the words and ethos behind it aren’t lived by the team in their day-to-day behaviours.

Teams are more likely to thrive when they agree on a set of values that they will live by, and then translate these into behaviours. For example, if a key value of our team is empathy, the behaviours that we will see are listening, asking questions, etc. Teams should check in and discuss whether they are living by their values, both in group settings but also 1:1 or in surveys. Team culture will falter if vision and values are words in a PowerPoint, never to be witnessed in reality.

3. Belonging and psychological safety

People don’t perform to their potential if they feel as though they don’t belong. The best teams have high levels of psychological safety, and, in the words of Dr Amy Edmondson, this is “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking”.

As we discussed earlier, the best teams share openly and utilise their differences; this won’t happen if people lack a sense of belonging. Teams should be warm, empathetic, supportive and create platforms for honest, low-stakes discussions. A recent Teacher Tapp poll found that teachers who rated themselves as having high morale tended to use the words “supportive” and “team” to suggest why. We want to belong, and we want to be in a mutually supportive team.

We can help you develop your school staff into strong leaders who will make a positive impact in education.

4. Communication

Those first three aspects of team culture can feel nebulous. But we communicate as a team every day.

So, how deliberate is that? Staff surveys regularly point at communication as a weakness, but what can we do? Staff often complain that communication is too infrequent, rather than the other way around. Overcommunicating can be irritating, but ultimately, it’s more likely to bring clarity than under communicating. But the best teams agree their communication platforms, frequency, and the nuanced rules within. Day-to-day communication will be a greater influence over team culture than occasional vision realignments – make sure your communication is frequent, clear, agreed upon, and finally, gives your team a genuine voice.

5. Consistency and dependability

In teams research, team cohesion is known as the belief the team has in its ability to work together and get the job done.

In my experience, teams only have this level of belief and trust when they receive a consistent experience. When the meeting finishes, actions are sent around and then are genuinely worked on. When the team leader says they will follow up on something, they do. The CPD request that you put in not only gets approved, but is encouraged, and then feeds into the team’s future development. We need dependability to trust and believe, so follow up is the lynchpin of team culture.

Final thoughts

When I think of team culture, I’m reminded of a study by The Harvard Business Review and behavioural insight experts Better Up which showed that a high sense of belonging, or in their words, those who feel “included”, can lead to a 56% increase in job performance, 75% reduction in absence and lead to more promotions for those staff. One way they measured this sense of inclusion was by playing a game of virtual catch; those who were excluded in the game were less likely to exhibit charitable or sharing behaviours in a following game. People’s perception of how included they are in a team’s culture has a genuine impact on their actions within and across their teams.

The aspects of culture that we covered in this post are a foundation for the team’s work itself. If you carefully improve the five areas discussed so far, you will have a team with vision, direction, belonging, and the right infrastructure to perform well.

That is a great achievement, but the next step is just as hard. Real high-performance occurs when these teams then create clear systems and processes, prioritise knowledge and development, regularly review and strive for improvement, and keep realigning their goals and culture to continually improve.

The Power of Teams is that we can utilise each other’s strengths and differences, and really make our breadth of experience count.

Sam is a Deputy Headteacher and Director of Education who has been researching high-performing teams, both in education and across other industries. His first book, The Power of Teams comes out on September 8th and provides a comprehensive exploration of how school teams can truly thrive. You can follow Sam on Twitter at @mr_crome


About the author

Sam Crome

Sam Crome

Sam Crome is a Deputy Headteacher, Director of Education, author and coach. He has dedicated his research to understanding the dynamics of high-performing teams in schools and beyond. In The Power of Teams, Sam offers a comprehensive exploration of how school teams can truly thrive. He regularly blogs, speaks, and works with schools regarding their teams, helping educators to maximise their effectiveness.

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