Employee Development

Team Culture: 12 Examples of high-performing teams

How would you describe your team culture? And how do you know if it'll lead to high performance or not? In this guide, we break down what team culture is, its importance, 12 examples, and what you need to do to build a high-performing team.

Ryan Carruthers

February 22, 2022

Team culture will make or break your company. There are few things as important to an organization's long-term success as how well their company works together. Do employees at your company feel a part of a team? Are they engaged with your mission? What separates a strong team culture from a weak one? 

All these questions and more will be answered in this comprehensive guide to building high-performing team cultures.


What is a team culture?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.”

Similarly, team culture is the attitudes, values, goals, and ways of working that a team shares. Every company has a prevailing culture. But there are many teams in an organization. Do all teams have the same culture? No. 

On every team, there’s a leader with a distinct management style. Likewise, team members on an engineering team may communicate differently than the sales team. One may prefer asynchronous communication, whereas the other may prefer frequent team meetings. These teams will also have their written or unwritten hierarchies.

You can’t touch it, but it’s felt deeply

Culture is a tricky thing to pin down. It’s hard to measure and much of it goes unsaid. But its nebulous nature doesn’t diminish its importance. Numerous studies show how important culture is to a company’s long-term success.

For example, many investors place a lot of weight on company culture. Reports have shown that companies on Glassdoor's Best Places To Work list have more than doubled the returns of the S&P 500.

Every community has a culture

You can’t have a culture as an individual. Culture grows out of the interactions between individuals. To begin building a high-performing team culture, you need to start seeing your team as a community. The community will have leaders, influencers, shared values, and practices that permeate everything you do. 


Why is team culture important?

Team culture is critical to organizational success. If you’re unconvinced of its importance lets look at four areas impacted by good or bad team cultures.

Retention

Numerous studies have been conducted to identify a relationship between a team’s culture and team members’ willingness to continue working for an organization. One particular study highlighted in a Western University report on organizational culture and retention had employees identify the values they had and the values they perceived in the company they worked for. 

The results found that the more alignment between an employee’s values and their organizations, the more likely that employee was to stay with the company longer. The report concluded that “evidence points to the fact that culture does matter - employee commitment and retention is related to the perceived organizational values.”

Engagement

Every company wants engaged and motivated employees. They are 21% more productive than their peers. But poor team cultures can also cripple employee engagement. For employees that aren’t engaged, the combination of higher rates of absenteeism and lower productivity costs upwards of a third of their salary

Having team cultures that engage employees is crucial to your company's performance.

Employee development

It’s expected that most organizations invest in employee development. 94% of employees would stay at a company that invests in their learning and development. Likewise, 62% of HR directors believe their employees need to reskill or upskill annually for their organization to remain competitive. 

Employee mentorship programs are a key way organizations can reinforce learning because they engage employees with relevant mentors that give them helpful advice and guidance. They also hold them accountable for achieving their long-term career goals and can be instrumental in opening up doors for them. Employees with mentors are promoted five times more often than their peers. 

Inclusion

For team cultures to be effective in driving performance, employees need to feel safe. In The Culture Code, author Daniel Coyle shows through studies that inclusive team cultures are better at encouraging group cohesion. 

For example, one study he highlights had a group of employees completing a task. The researchers planted an employee in the group instructed to have a bad attitude. They’d complain and slack off. Studies have shown that employees who slack off can pull productivity down by 40%.

In one group, their behaviour was contagious. But in another, there was an employee that responded to the negativity with warmth and positivity. The positivity signalled to other group members that just because there was one “bad apple” didn’t mean they had to drag the whole group down. 

The conclusion of the study showed that we perform best when we feel we belong. It gives us cues that bolster our sense of safety. And safety is a prerequisite for great teamwork.

Now that we know the importance of team cultures, let’s look at the four components of successful team cultures.


The essential components of a high-performing team culture

The respected management consultant and lecturer, Mario Moussa identifies four components of team cultures in his book, The Culture Puzzle: Harnessing the Forces That Drive Your Organization's Success

  1. Vision
  2. Interests
  3. Habits
  4. Innovation

Let’s unpack each.

It’s the values that everyone shares

Whether it’s communication, leadership, or ways of working, the team culture is about values. These values make up the foundation of how the team works together. 

  • One team may value efficiency or productivity as core to their performance. 
  • Another may value trust and open communication. 

The values are different, but what’s most important is that they’re shared. To perform well, all employees need to be on board with these values.

Keep employees’ interests at the forefront of team culture

Winning team cultures aren’t dictated from the top down. Teams adopt values and ways of working when they see the benefits of doing so. It’s a negotiation. For leaders who want to develop high-performing team cultures, they need to sell it to their employees. 

Moussa says in an INC article discussing his book that “everyone wants to build a common bond with others, do meaningful work, and feel valued and respected.” To nudge your employees to adopt behaviours that drive the company forward help them build meaningful connections

When employees care about those they work with they’ll want to do good work with them. It wild drive their performance which will produce a sense of satisfaction. This makes their work meaningful. The quality of their work will then gain them recognition which in turn shows them their value. The virtuous cycle repeats and team culture is reinforced.

Rituals you do as a team

Winning team cultures need to be reinforced. It’s the habits that employees do every day that drives performance over the long term. Moussa explains that these rituals or habits are cues. Leaders can establish these cues during all-hands meetings. 

At the start of a new project, leaders can set the tone by painting a picture of what the team needs to do to accomplish their goal. 

Maybe it’s frequent communication: “For us to pull this off, we need to be talking with one another every day. For this reason, we’ll have daily meetings at this time for the duration of this project.” In tying a behaviour (frequent communication) to the desired outcome, employees see its importance and buy into the habit of meeting every day at a particular time.

A buy-in for outlandish ideas (in other words, innovation)

For a team culture to be successful it needs great leaders who welcome ideas. All strong team cultures have a tolerance for outlandish ideas because great ideas often come from unexpected places. 

Likewise, if employees aren’t encouraged to pitch their ideas or recognized for those that are successful, the flow of ideas will slow. Innovative ideas come from team cultures that nurture them. 


12 Examples of team culture types

Human Synergistics, an organizational development consultancy developed a model for identifying team cultures. It’s called The Circumplex and they describe it as follows:

“A visual model for developing Constructive styles in individuals, managers, leaders, teams, and organizations.”

They have a visual tool you can use to learn about each of the twelve styles

The Circumplex, developed by Human Synergistics is a visual model for developing Constructive styles in individuals, managers, leaders, teams, and organizations.
The Circumplex, developed by Human Synergistics shows 12 different types of team cultures.

To interpret the 12 types of cultures, below is a summary from Western University's report on organizational culture and retention describing each style:

A summary of the 12 types of team cultures
Humanistic/Helpful culture Employees are managed in a participative and person-centred way. Members are expected to be supportive, constructive and open to influence when interacting with others.
Affiliative culture Priority is placed on constructive interpersonal relationships. Employees are expected to be friendly, open and sensitive to the satisfaction of their colleagues.
Approval culture Conflicts are avoided and interpersonal relationships are pleasant - at least superficially. Employees feel that they should agree with, gain the approval of, and be liked by, others.
Conventional culture This culture is conservative, traditional and bureaucratic. Employees are expected to conform, follow the rules, and make a good impression.
Dependent culture Organizations with this type of culture are hierarchically controlled and non-participative. Centralized decision-making is common and employees do only what they are told. They clear ali decisions with superiors.
Avoidance culture Successes are not rewarded, but mistakes are punished. This negative reward system leads members to shift responsibilities to others and avoid any possibility of being blamed for a mistake.
Oppositional culture Confrontation prevails and negativism is rewarded. Employees gain status and influence by being critical and are encouraged to oppose co-workers' ideas
Power culture This type of culture is characteristic of non-participative organizations structured on the basis of the authority inherent in employees' positions. Members believe that they will be rewarded for taking charge and controlling subordinates.
Competitive culture Winning is valued, and employees are recognized and rewarded for out-performing one another. People function in a "win-lose" framework and believe that they must work against (instead of with) their colleagues to be noticed. This culture promotes turning one's job into a competition, and appearing to never lose.
Competence/Perfectionistic culture Perfectionism, persistence and hard work are valued. Employees feel that they must avoid all mistakes, keep track of everything and work long hours to attain narrowly-defined objectives.
Achievement culture Goal achievement and quality performance are valued. Employees set challenging but realistic goals, establish plans to reach these goals and pursue them with enthusiasm.
Self-actualization culture Creativity, quality (versus quantity), task accomplishment and individual growth are valued. Employees are encouraged to gain enjoyment from their work, develop themselves, think in unique and independent ways, and take on new and interesting activities.


Which culture most accurately reflects your team? Does it align with the culture you’d most like to have? These 12 examples are a great resource for benchmarking how well your team culture is for your organization.


How to build a team culture while remote?

Building a team culture remotely can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. It can seem like remote companies can’t compete with fancy office decor, hip coffee machines, or prime office locations. But, in fact, the foundations of successful team cultures don’t change whether you’re remote or in person. 

In the book, Teams That Work: The Seven Drivers of Team Effectiveness, authors Scott Tannenbaum and Eduardo Salas outline seven principles to highly effective team cultures:

  1. Teamwork is a learned skill, but it won’t make up for a lack of skilled employees.
  2. The foundation of team cooperation is psychological safety. Team members need to believe that you have their best interests at heart.
  3. Effective teams coordinate through core behaviours. Those core behaviours of high-performing teams are monitoring each other, knowing when team members need support, and adapting to changing environments or priorities.
  4. Quality of communication is more important than quantity. Asynchronous or synchronous communication isn’t as important as the way employees communicate with one another. Clear, structured thinking leads to better understanding and action.
  5. A shared sense of purpose, organizational priorities, and an understanding of one’s and others’ roles are essential to effective teamwork.
  6. The best teams can’t work well together if the conditions don’t support it. Proper incentives, recognition, and support are foundational to strong team cultures.
  7. Leaders need to ensure their teams have the necessary resources to succeed. You can’t expect teams to perform well without the right tools to do the job.


Signs of a toxic team culture

According to The Culture Code there are three signs of a toxic team culture: 

  1. Weak group cultures are the result of focusing too much on skills and titles, not interpersonal interactions between team members. 
  2. Weak groups don’t have a sense of belonging. There’s a blame culture.
  3. There’s a lack of vulnerability among team members. No one can admit their imperfection.

If your team shows these characteristics you’ll need to step in and reorient the team. You’ll have to identify which of the essential components of high-performing team cultures are missing.


How to build a winning team culture: mentorship

Team cultures are the accumulation of interactions between team members. One way to strengthen the relationships between employees at your organization is to start an employee mentoring program. Mentoring software like Together’s makes it possible to quickly match employees based on their unique goals and skills. The pairing algorithm matches mentors and mentees quickly and efficiently. 

Mentoring programs are proven to improve team performance. Get started creating a mentorship group for free today. You can invite your employees to join and start matching them with relevant mentors to help them grow their careers.

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