THE BLOG
02/21/2013 07:55 am ET Updated Apr 23, 2013

Influencing Your Team's Culture

As a leader, you shape the culture of your team. You have the opportunity - and responsibility - to transform a collection of individuals into a high-performing group.

As much as you may want to, you know that you can't mandate teamwork. Plotters and schemers can undermine your efforts, unraveling not just your team's performance, but your customer relationships as well. The reality is that every organization is inherently a political entity. Some team members will vie for attention, resources, and positions.

That's why culture is crucial - and why it begins with you. A key part of your leadership role is to identify and influence the interpersonal dynamics of your team so that it thrives, not implodes. Assume nothing.

How do you influence a culture?

1. Your Style Is Their Style. Be aware that your style cascades throughout your team. An open, genuine presence based on your values is your best asset. If team members fear your reactions, self-preservation kicks in, dominating attitudes and leading to the withholding of information. Nothing reinforces behaviors more than rewards. Integrate your values into your HR process so positive actions are measured and rewarded.

2. Balance Participation. Some of your team members will try to dominate meetings, leaving others silent. Once this imbalance of participation is in place, it's hard to reverse. Watch for non-verbal signs that silent members want to contribute. Intervene if a few individuals do the lion's share of the talking, preventing differing points of view from being heard. Balanced participation will help you make the best leadership decisions possible.

3. Squash Suppression. Some people may be reluctant to tell you the truth because of your seniority. Others just don't want to be associated with bad news. The bottom line? Suppressed disagreement is deadly. The last thing you want is for team members to censor strong negative feelings. These feelings nearly always resurface as defensiveness and irrational criticism against you or other team members. Your role is to get hidden viewpoints on the table before they morph into damaging private agendas.

4. Prevent Groupthink. A complete lack of conflict when discussing important decisions can be just as dangerous as suppression. It may signal that people are afraid to confront each other in an effort to preserve harmony. Groupthink often occurs in teams with minimal turnover. To counteract it, encourage rigorous discussions. Model candor. Invite it. Reward it.

5. Manage Mistrust. A culture of mistrust is a downward spiral that will derail your leadership. In the absence of trust, people question and resist even the most innocuous suggestions. A clear and compelling agenda, delivered with transparency, shapes a trusting culture.

A frank and free-flowing culture will mobilize and influence your team to meet its goals.