Team Culture and Effective Collaborating 

1/12/2016

There are six levels of culture at play in any working environment – national/societal, identity group, organizational, functional, team, and individual. Many organizational leaders seeking to create synergies and increase collaboration among their employees and partners only focus on the national level. However, the team level of culture is important because as members of a team work together, they begin creating a dominant culture for the entire group. With cultural competence, team leaders can create a positive and inclusive team culture, in which all members feel valued. This increases engagement, and thus bolsters the effectiveness of the group as well as the organization as a whole.

However, it does not always go so smoothly. Sometimes, when teams come together, there is a dynamic in which a small group of people is dominant in setting expectations for the group’s behavior and output, while the other members of the team are not active participants in the processes and strategy of the group’s work. This particular structural backdrop could be described in terms of relative insider/outsider status. Insider status, in this sense, means the ability to set and determine the cultural norms of a given group. It is based on the idea that whenever individuals come together, they actively create culture, but do so mostly subconsciously and on the basis of their experiences, expectations, and beliefs about themselves and others, and their shared context. The insiders are the ones who create, embed and transmit culture in a team by making it clear what is expected, reinforced and rewarded within.

When insider team members react either enthusiastically or indifferently to behaviors or ideas, they subtly communicate their expectations, and reinforce and reward the norm. People in the outsider groups may feel pressure to follow along with the norm, or may lack the will to challenge it.

When team cultures are not working for the individuals within the team, the members must analyze the dynamics of the group and talk about their cultural preferences and how these can create gaps. This is done with the use of the Cultural Orientations Indicator and the team gap report. In analyzing their individual COI profiles and comparing them to their colleagues’, team members can negotiate a shared understanding and come up with new norms that work for all of the group’s members. They can also escape the insider/outsider structure to come up with a system that allows for more common participation.

Teams that have created a mutually beneficial and inclusive team culture are more effective, team members are more engaged, and the organizations they work for do better overall.