The efforts behind brand-culture often start at the “forest” level with an emphasis on how the entire organization can best support and deliver the customer promise. While this work is critical and necessary for developing and sustaining a strong brand and culture, there’s more work that can be done at the tree level to build a positive culture within departments and teams.

The day-to-day operation of most organizations happens at the tree level: smaller teams getting the work done and contributing to the bigger picture. These teams might consist of a department focused on a specific area of expertise like human resources or IT. A team might also involve cross-functional members who come together to collaborate on special initiatives or projects in the organization.

Micro-cultures Can Make or Break Broader Culture

While the broader culture of the organization definitely impacts the work of any team, the collaboration of employees within these smaller groups offers another opportunity for culture to flourish or flounder. Even if the broader organizational culture is strong, the dynamics of these micro-cultures within teams can make or break the success of many critical company projects.

How can teams be set up to maximize success and support thriving micro-cultures? It might be tempting to focus on establishing the perfect mix of experience, education, and personality traits amongst team members. While those attributes are important, it’s perhaps more critical to create a framework to support the growth of a positive culture within the team.

Recently, Google took an in-depth look at what makes an effective team by conducting an extensive internal research project. As an organization that relies heavily on teamwork to drive projects and initiatives, Google was looking for information that would help set up teams for optimal success. The research pointed to the fact that whois on a team is not as critical as the dynamics of how the team interacts and behaves – basically the team’s culture.

Five Key Dynamics for Successful Teams

Google discovered five key dynamics that are at the core of successful teams:

  1. Psychological safety: Do team members have the freedom and trust of their teammates to take risks and step outside the box?
  2. Dependability: Can team members rely on each other to meet deadlines and fulfill their accountabilities?
  3. Structure & clarity: Does the team have clarity around goals, roles, and expectations?
  4. Meaning of work: Does the team feel their work is relevant and meaningful?
  5. Impact of work: Does the team see how their work contributes to the success of the organization?

These five dynamics may seem like just a lot of common sense. Of course employees want to feel their teammates are dependable and that their work is meaningful. However, it’s tempting in larger organizations to look at culture exclusively from the forest-level without considering how beliefs and behaviors manifest in smaller group environments. By being mindful of these dynamics, an organization can connect the broader aspects of culture to the specific conditions that allow for success at the team level.

Armed with this information, Google created tools that allow teams to determine if the key dynamics are thriving or struggling within a group. Using discussion points and simple exercises, teams can keep themselves on a successful track and strengthen their micro-cultures.  Google claims to have already seen positive results among the many teams within the organization.

The five dynamics that Google uncovered could easily be adapted to any organization and play a role in supporting culture at the team level. By framing the dynamics within the context of a brand’s attributes and cultural pillars, you can make them relevant to any organization – creating a foundation for thriving micro-cultures at every level of the business.

Kennedy Global has developed strategies and tools for building culture in numerous global organizations. If we can help you create a strategy to build brand-culture for your broader organization or for the micro-cultures of your teams, please contact us. We’d love to partner with you to build the ideal solution that suits your organization.

About Alice Wright

As Director of Client Services, Alice directs projects while also designing program strategy and instructional content. She has more than 22 years of experience managing integrated strategic marketing, communication and training programs for globally recognized brands. Some of her current and past clients include Nike, Sunglass Hut, Safeway, Banfield Pet Hospital, Office Depot, Unilever, LensCrafters, EMC, Intel, Microsoft, Dell, adidas, Joann Stores and others.

Alice earned her bachelor’s degree from the School of Journalism and Communication at University of Oregon. She lives with her husband and teenage son in Portland, Oregon where she loves exploring the outdoors and being a soccer/band mom.

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