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Our Approach To Culture Change in Teams

Our job at The Hum is to help teams establish a developmental culture, where everyone is supported to grow as an individual, and the team as a whole is continuously improving. Here’s how we think about culture change:

Our first assumption: the current system is perfectly adapted to its context. The behaviours & norms that you see in your team all exist for a good reason. They evolved in response to the history, the specific relationships, and the broader cultural context of the team.

You may feel frustrated about the shortcomings of your current system. That’s perfectly understandable. But you don’t need to blame or punish other people for their “bad behaviour”, and you don’t need to feel guilty about being a “bad team player” yourself. Blame & shame inhibit culture change.

The current system has benefits & costs. For example you might have a “too nice” team culture. The benefit is that people are considerate, they try not to hurt anyone’s feelings. The cost is that nobody is receiving constructive feedback, so you lack accountability and you miss out on opportunities for growth.

If you can collectively take an honest account of the costs & benefits of your current system, you can use that to uncover the values & principles we’ll use to start prototyping a new system.

For example, let’s return to the Too Nice Team and ask them to list out some benefits & costs of their current system:

Both the benefits & costs reveal what is important to the group. You can use this table to understand their principles, values & needs..

For this example, let’s focus on what this table shows us about what people in the group need (using a term from Non Violent Communication theory). The benefits indicate what needs are being prioritised, and the costs point to the unmet needs.

With this honest account of the current system, we can start to design a new system that’s a better fit for our current context.

The only way a new system will stick is if it can deliver more benefit for less cost than the old system. That means we must keep meeting people’s need for acceptance, belonging, empathy, freedom & harmony, and we have to meet some of the unmet needs for awareness, authenticity, challenge, growth & self-expression.

This is our design brief. We’re going to devise some experiments. For example, if people are withholding constructive feedback because they fear that the recipient will not feel accepted, can they try different feedback methods that deliver both on the need for acceptance, and their needs for growth & challenge.

Any system is going to have costs. Don’t expect this to be plain sailing. Change always includes some discomfort. You may experience some discomfort but that doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track. What’s important is that we give these new behaviours and practices a fair trial, with sufficient time, commitment & support. Can we agree to spend the next two months trying three different feedback practices? Then we will stop and evaluate together. We’ll keep prototyping and iterating until we find new behaviours with more benefit with less cost.

That’s it! We hope this approach is helpful to you. Drop us a line if you want support to establish a developmental culture in your team.

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