The Top 3 Killers of Team Culture that Leaders Should Avoid

When it comes to your company, there’s no greater asset than a healthy team culture.  As it has been said many times,

“Team culture eats company strategy for breakfast.”

william vaderbloemen
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You can have the best strategy, the strongest marketing, and the greatest profitability.  However, if you don’t also have a healthy team culture, your longterm success is doomed to failure.

It takes a lot of work, effort, and deliberate nurturing to develop and maintain a healthy team culture. Just like your reputation, it can take years to build and very little time to destroy.  Here are the top three killers of team culture that leaders need to avoid.

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1. Weak Leadership

People don’t leave jobs.  They leave bosses!

Your team members expect you to be a leader.  As a physician, you’re in a position of leadership and influence, whether you have a title or not.  Your team members look to you for wisdom and guidance.

When you’re not strong, and when you don’t stand up for your team members, they stop trusting you.  That’s a recipe for a critical failure.  Organizations move at the speed of trust.  If you don’t have your team members’ trust and respect, it’s just a matter of time before people start leaving your team.

team cultureWhen I left my last job, I had people tell me how much they appreciated that I always had their back.  I’ve told my team many times, “If you do the right thing, I’ll always back you up.”  I have a GREAT team, and I trust them!  So, when another physician or leader comes to me with a perceived problem about one of my team members, I have no problem standing up for them.

As a leader, you’ve got to have your people’s backs, and you’ve got to enforce the rules.  I had a CRNA one time make some graphic and crude sexual remarks in front of my team and a patient.  I put a stop to it immediately, had some frank conversations with his dept. head, and he was fired shortly thereafter.

We don’t tolerate unprofessional behavior.  Our team requires and expects excellence in all things.  People trust that, and so our culture coalesces around a belief in being excellent.

But, attitude reflects leadership!  So be a strong leader!

2. Gossip

Gossip is a cancer in your organization.  It’s one of the most pervasive culture killers that I can think of.  I tell my team members that complaints should always go up the chain of command/leadership, not laterally.  Complaints that go up are issues we can address and remedy.  Complaints that go laterally are just gossip.gossip kills team culture

I don’t like to engage in gossip, and I look for opportunities to quash it when I see it.  I know some organizations that go so far as to have a “no-gossip” policy written into their employees’ contracts.  You might think that’s an extreme approach, and maybe it is. Gossip is normal, sure.  But, team dysfunction is normal too.  I’m not always a fan of “normal.”

As a leader, you have the ability and frankly the responsibility to discourage gossip from your team members.  It starts with you not engaging in gossip yourself.  If your team members hear you gossiping, then they’ll naturally assume it’s ok for them to do it too.  That’s not enough though.  You’ve got to identify gossip and call it out when you see it.  Do this often enough, and your team members will start policing themselves.

I’ve had new team members that started to gossip about something only to have an older team member say, “That sounds like gossip, and we don’t do that on our team.”  Wouldn’t it be amazing to hear that from one of your team members?

3. Lack of clear vision

Your team won’t know where your company is going if you don’t tell them.  And, you should tell them often!  A vision that no one knows or acts on is just a dream!

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

As the leader, you set the tone and vision for the company’s future.  I strongly recommend you do this with team member input, but it’s ultimately up to you as the leader in your company.  What’s your plan for the future?  Where do you see the company in the next 5-10 years?vision is necessary for team culture

When your team members feel like there’s a future for them in the company, they’ll be willing to contribute a lot more.  That attitude will become infectious and will lead to a healthier team culture.

Your vision statement shouldn’t be a wish list.  It should be a specific, defined goal or set of goals for your company’s future.  It should be memorable and actionable.  Don’t just take your board on a company retreat, determine the vision, and then stick it in a file somewhere.

Tell your team often!  Explain why the vision is so important!  Celebrate when someone is seen to be upholding the values inherent in the company’s vision in a meaningful way.

Don’t be like the leader who saw his followers going somewhere and said, “I must find out where my people are going so I can lead them there.”  Take the lead!  Be strong, and have a clear vision that you articulate for your team!

Final Thoughts

Team culture isn’t something you open out of a box and it’s ready to go.  It takes time, nurturing, and careful attention to cultivate.  It’s not like putting a hammer to a nail.  A better example would be planting a crop, tilling the soil, removing weeds and pests, watering the crop, and eventually over time and great effort there will be a rich harvest.

Your team’s culture will make or break your company.  It’s not about having the best vacation policy or the coolest ergonomic office designs.  It’s about the values you celebrate, the investment you make in your team members, and the strength of your leadership.  You may not notice the difference right away, but if you don’t take steps to develop a healthy team culture, you’ll reap only disaster.

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Further Reading


Please leave a comment below!  What’s your top tip for maintaining a healthy team culture?


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