Culture

by Jo Geraghty and Derek Bishop

Leaders at every level

In this topic, we’ve looked at organisational culture from the perspective of the organisation itself, its influencers and its leaders. We have included references to those who are not in the top line of leadership, but are nevertheless vital for the implementation and smooth running of organisational culture. They may be team leaders, departmental leaders, middle managers or even leaders without a title, but whoever they are and whatever their title, without them the top leadership would only have a slim chance of maintaining the desired culture.

Seen as the gatekeepers, these cultural leaders are the people who are ultimately responsible for setting, translating and maintaining the culture of the organisation. So let’s spend a few moments highlighting the special role which these individuals play in organisational life.

  • Who are the gatekeepers of culture? For the purpose of this section, we’ll use the title of team leader, but in all honesty these individuals could sit at any level. They could be divisional or departmental leaders or they could be team or section leaders. They could even be key influencers, those people without a formal title who, by their very presence, can significantly set and influence the culture and behaviour of those around them.
  • How do they influence the culture? You see them in every business: the people who greet everyone with a cheery smile or a sullen frown; who set a positive example by the way that they work or who mutter against change and thereby unsettle those around them. The executive team may set the strategy, beliefs and behaviours, but the team leaders are the ones who will translate it into action or scupper good intentions. These are the people who will counsel and guide and who will in their turn take the organisational strategy and make it work on the ground. For the majority of staff and customers, it is these team leaders who represent the face of the organisation and who are ultimately responsible for its reputation and profitability.

So what are the special roles and responsibilities of team leaders when it comes to culture and how do organisational leaders ensure that the beliefs and behaviours which they have so carefully crafted are translated into action on the ground? As with so much else in business, it comes down to involvement, empowerment and training.

Involvement

Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

Benjamin Franklin

One of the most fundamental mistakes which business leaders can make is to assume that, just because they have put a lot of effort into crafting new strategies, their employees will be fully on board as soon as an announcement has been made. Nothing could be further from the truth. The thought processes which leaders follow in developing strategy, vision and values have no meaning to employees unless and until they have been involved in the process. Simply standing up and announcing that from now own we will do ‘x’ is only going to provoke one response in the majority of employees and that is resistance.

  • What is in it for me?
  • How will my job be affected?
  • Why should I change what I’ve done for years?
  • If you change ‘x’ then ‘y’ won’t work...

...the list goes on. The answer is to involve team leaders at the earliest possible stage in the process. And that doesn’t just mean telling them what is going on, it means asking for input, listening to feedback and, above all else, explaining the rationale behind and the effect of the proposed changes. The more that team leaders are involved, the more they will be able to coach, calm and engage those around them. Yes there are times, such as in M&A negotiations, when involving team leaders at an early stage is not advisable. And yes there are times, particularly in large organisations, when inviting all team leaders onto the development panel would be impractical. But in every change process there comes a time at which team leaders should and must become involved.

Empowerment

Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the earth.

Archimedes

Team leaders are the people on the ground, they are the ones who oversee and moderate the actions of those around them. The more that their actions are circumscribed, the less effective they will be at ensuring the culture stays strong. Empowering them to guide and to act may require a leap of faith on the part of management, but provided that the culture, personnel selection and training are adequate, the team leaders won’t let the business down.

Empowered leaders not only are more likely to guard the culture of the organisation, they are also more likely to influence it for the betterment of the organisation. Whether it is by building external relationships, translating processes into customer-service-enhancing actions, or suggesting improvements to process and attitude, empowered team leaders can drive the business forward and, in the process, help to establish a strong reputation.

Training

An individual step in character training is to put responsibility on the individual.

Robert Baden-Powell

When team leaders are appointed, the training emphasis is generally on skills such as job development or working the HR system. But for team leaders to be truly effective, they require training in personal skills, such as negotiating, counselling, awareness of self and others, and influencing. With the right tools at their disposal, team leaders are far more likely to be able to influence the culture of the organisation and to guide others along the right pathways.