A group of people can only be as strong and healthy as the culture in which they live. Likewise, your team will only be as strong and healthy as the culture they work in.
Culture is a set of shared mindsets, values, goals, practices, and rules that the members of a society use to navigate their world. Culture ultimately defines your team’s performance, informing the way they interact with each other and with your vendors, prospects, clients, or customers.
Culture is also the proverbial “elephant in the room” for many otherwise successful leaders. It’s a much-talked-about but seldom-implemented item on meeting agendas and training initiatives. Because for a lot of leaders a healthy culture and a high-performance culture seem to be two ends of a spectrum with no way to bring the ends together.
If you think about performance as “yield” you might use the analogy that culture is the soil in which you plant the seeds and the protocols of watering, fertilizing, sheltering, and harvesting you have in place to maximize the yield. Notice, then, that all the choices you’d make to create the optimal “culture” for a high-yield crop are about meeting the needs of the type of seed you’ve put in the ground and the type of crop you’re planning to produce. If those needs aren’t met you cannot “nurture” those seeds into survival, let alone into producing a harvest.
Where leaders go wrong and end up frustrated with culture creation is that they think of culture health and team health from a nurture perspective rather than a nature perspective.
They think building a healthy culture is about providing what makes people feel good in the moment—team events, ping pong tables, kombucha on tap, or avoiding conflict around the conference table.
That kind of “health” can be detrimental to performance if the basic needs of the humans on their teams aren’t met. You can’t use a good game of table tennis to make up for a lack of clarity about what is expected of you on the next project for instance. And no amount of kombucha is going to help you sit through a meeting where there is no conflict and no opportunity to contribute anything of meaning either.
But it is certainly possible to create a healthy culture that organically leads to heightened team performance and human fulfillment.
In fact, creating this kind of culture is the first step in maximizing the greatest asset you, as a leader, have access to—the energy and potential of the humans on your team.
In How to Maximize Your Company’s Greatest Asset – The Secret to Exponential Business Growth, which you can download here, I said, “All the things you measure – from topline sales to bottom line profits, and everything in between—are a natural byproduct of human performance.” Just as the crop yield the farmer measures is a byproduct of the performance of each seed they put in the ground, the KPIs you’re measured for as a leader are a byproduct of the performance of each human on your team.
To maximize that yield you must create your team culture on similar principles a farmer would use to decide on the soil composition, the irrigation and windbreaks in their infrastructure, or the schedule for fertilization and harvesting. And those principles are based on the basic needs of the seeds, or humans, to actualize their potential for growth, not what makes them feel good right now.
It’s tempting, especially when we’re all bruised from two years of isolation, loss, and fear, and facing ever changing challenges in hiring and retention, to focus on nurture. But that will backfire if we aren’t simultaneously reimagining and redesigning our culture to address what I call The 6 Facets of Human Needs™.
These needs—Clarity, Connection, Consideration, Contribution, Challenge, and Confidence—form the framework for a healthy, high-performance culture that produces the highest possible “yield.” When humans share mindsets, values, goals, practices, and rules that are designed around these six “Cs” they not only feel good, they feel safe, heard, valued, and empowered. Exactly the feelings we’ve tried to inspire through nurture, but at a root-deep level rather than superficial in the moment experiences.
Humans love to strive and achieve, it’s in our DNA. When we feel strong and healthy, physically, mentally, and emotionally, we’re driven to “go for it” whatever the “it” is that gives us that sense of striving and thriving.
So it’s inevitable that when leaders base their culture on first meeting these needs for the humans on their teams, then layering on nurture, they achieve strong, healthy teams who naturally strive to perform to their highest potential resulting in higher yields of profit and fulfillment for everyone.