How to Align Your Culture via Team Talk

Each year, up to 20% of salaried workers may leave their jobs. While some of these people leave their secure jobs to start their own businesses or for new exciting opportunities, many leave their jobs simply because they are not happy.

And staggeringly, latest figures reveal that globally employee ‘engagement’ is at an all time low. For example, recent figures for Australia show only 25% of employees as ‘highly engaged’ with 54% disengaged and 21% ‘actively sabotaging’.

And in Europe, those numbers run 12% engaged, 73% disengaged and 14% ‘sabotaging’. It’s hardly surprising why people might be leaving.

So, when we look into common reasons for resignations, ‘relationship with others’ comes among the top items citing ‘bad boss’ as the number one cause. Even if people are happy with their employment conditions (e.g. salary), they still wouldn’t want to stay in their jobs if they experience too much stress and unhappiness in their company culture.

Hiring new team members into these abandoned positions is one of the biggest expenses that are often unbudgeted by small businesses. If you have a high turnaround of team members, you maybe wasting your resources that could have been used to improve your business much more.

And this ‘waste’ could be even bigger than you may imagine…

Everyone Can be Great. But No One is Perfect.

Losing an employee can cost a company anywhere between 16-213% of their annual salary according to a Huffington Post’s article. A departure of an unhappy team member can also instil a sense of insecurity and lack of trust in the environment too.

When you made a decision to employ someone, you must have made that decision carefully. You would not hire someone who you know is incapable or horrible. You probably choose people based on the belief that they have a great potential to thrive in the specific role.

So, where did it go wrong? It’s likely either you made a wrong choice or you didn’t do well to grow and nurture the person.

If the choice was wrong in the first place, you can simply work on improving your selection process (read more about how to choose right people in my earlier article). But if it was the latter case, you can work on getting better at creating a great culture where your team thrive on.

The reality is that everyone can be great depending on how they are guided, nurtured, empowered and encouraged. But there is no one in the world who can be perfect in all situations. Even the greatest of talent will be tempted to leave a job when the environment does not inspire greatness.

How Do You Evaluate Your Culture?

“Culture,” said Lou Gerstner, the iconic ‘turnaround Chairman’ and CEO at IBM in the late 90’s, “is not just one aspect of the game. It IS the game.”

So, how well are you creating a great culture to retain good talent? These are some of the indications of challenges you may be facing.

  1. You feel a sense of unhappiness or dullness among your team members (especially on Mondays)
  2. You often lose your most talented people to bigger companies with better job offers
  3. You feel that people in your company are driven more by self-interest
  4. Some of the team members in your company hate each other
  5. The work ethic of the team is decaying
  6. You sense that some people in your company are holding back their feelings

When you feel that one or more of these conditions apply to your business, there is some great news: you can change this. Being aware is the very first step.

But to create the change, you might have to do something a little uncomfortable: breaking the silence.

Silence: Common Cause of Toxic Culture

There’s an old saying, “Silence is golden.” Maybe we should question that. Here’s why.

According to a study, a third of employees in US do not speak up because of the fear of retribution. So, silence (and disconnect) is often the biggest obstacle in making any change. People are not likely to tell you when they are facing issues. They do not see that speaking up will result in the real positive change. Instead, they are more likely to hold the feelings and just resign one day when things are really out of hands.

And it’s true. Depending on the way those negative thoughts are expressed, it can create even bigger challenge and stress at work. Criticism, confrontation, blame and annoyance…voicing negative thoughts and feelings like these do make things worse.

So….what can we do?

Open Feedback Session for Positive Change

In my own small and growing business, we conduct regular reviews of every team member. They can talk to their senior team members privately to express thoughts and feelings they might not reveal publicly. We also focus on letting people conduct self evaluations and this works well. No one gets defensive when they are the ones to express how they can (and want to) improve.

But interestingly, our team – having the fundamental trust – eventually requested an open feedback session. They wanted to have a more open conversation among all of the core team members. So we decided to have one at the beginning of the year.

Initially, I was slightly concerned that this kind of ‘open feedback’ session might draw judgement, criticism or defensiveness from the team members. We do have a great team but there were situations the team did not work very well together. I suspected we might face negativity if the discussion had no guidelines. So, we applied a simple structure.

It worked like this:

“First, we all pick draw sticks with numbers. The person with number 1 gets to go first and takes a ‘talking stick’ (in our case was a voice recorder). When it’s your turn, you grab the stick and talk about what you think you do well and what you think you should improve and want others to help you with. Then, the remaining team take turns to talk about you. They talk about how they think you can do better, what they appreciate about you…and so on. If anyone gets judgmental or defensive, we take away the ‘talking stick’ from the person. When people give you feedback and suggestions, you are encouraged to simply thank them and take notes. There is no need for you to defend or explain yourself.”

The results were amazing. Everyone was extremely positive and supportive of each other. We openly talked about specific challenges but no one was judgemental or defensive. People were admitting their own flaws humbly. We also ended up expressing more about the gratitude we had for each other, acknowledging the different qualities everyone brought to the team.

We discovered that the team actually wanted to learn much more from each other and wanted to collaborate more to create greater outcome. They wanted to change and they wanted to improve.

An exercise like this is not easy to do for a large team but it can be done in smaller groups of people who work closely together.

In our case, it was definitely worth the 80 minutes we spent to create more fulfilling year ahead for everyone. We all took away specific and useful ideas how we can improve and contribute more.

Team Talk: An Investment for Good

Being in business, we are all busy. Every single day, we have more chores than we can tackle, we have more ideas to implement. It is easy to get side-tracked by the ‘busy-ness’ and then forget about how everyone is feeling and being connected in the team.

A simple Team Talk session like this might become a catalyst for change. And the time you spend with your team as a leader can be priceless. You can delay or eliminate a few minor chores from your list for now and spend a few extra minutes to inspire more caring, appreciation and understanding in your team.

Your investment in your team culture will always eventually pay off…. BIG time too!

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If you want to do more to create positive impact…

You can learn more about the art of making improvements in Masami’s latest book “GIVING BUSINESS: Creating The Maximum Impact in the Meaning-Driven World”.

You can also download the free e-book to find out how you can maximize the impact of your life and business from here.

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