Struggling to Successfully Design a Culture of Teamwork?

Business team collaborating at a circular table.Leaders are always asking me what the right culture for a successful business is. “Just tell me what I need to build”.

There is no magic recipe for a successful culture because every business and leader creates a unique situation. Is your business in start-up mode, been around for decades, or re-inventing itself? What are your personal values that drive your authentic behaviours? This combination is what creates a unique cultural DNA for every organization.

However, one value that most leaders look for is teamwork. But teamwork doesn’t just show up one day because we put up a poster with people rowing together in a large boat on the wall.


Pushing for a team environment brings about its own challenges. How much of the work requires people to work together? How much of the teamwork requirement is being driven by an over-desire to demonstrate collaboration?

According to Rob Cross in his Harvard Business Review article Collaborative Overload “the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more. Collaboration is indeed the answer to many of today’s most pressing business challenges. But more isn’t always better.”

In some organizations people are so busy “collaborating” through meetings, conference calls, and emails there is little time for them to work on their individual tasks. Are your collaborative activities enhancing or inhibiting teamwork?

Open Communications

Just because people want to be informed and desire open communication, doesn’t mean they need to weigh in on every decision. I remember a time with one of my clients where they were so poor at communicating that the only way people felt as if they were being kept in the loop was to show up at as many meetings as possible. Unfortunately that made the meetings unwieldy and people weren’t clear if they were there just to be informed or if they actually had a role to play in thedecision-making.

Using a RACI chart was a helpful Band-Aid. This tool helps participants understand their roles: responsible, accountable: informed or consulted. However improving their communications would have been better and brought them closer to the root cause and created better behaviors. In this example, they were a group of people meeting but they were hardly a team.  When you look around the room at a meeting in your organization do you see teamwork?


According to Sylvia Plester-Silk, author of Unleashing Team Potential, people will only play and work together if they find themselves in an environment of respect. I have experienced this first hand. I was brought in to turn around a poor performing organization.

The first thing I did was to get a handle on the culture. I knew the interconnectedness of the organization’s functions required teamwork. However when I asked the employees for the values needed for success, teamwork wasn’t even on the radar. They were living in a world of blame, manipulation and favoritism. What they asked for was respect for all.  It was clear that until we could establish respect, we could never move into teamwork. Where is your organization on the continuum of blame to teamwork?

If you believe teamwork is a necessary way of doing things in order to bring about success, think carefully about what is going on in your existing culture that can help or hinder team dynamics.  Think about collaboration, open communication and respect.  Addressing these three areas of your culture will go a long way to getting your employees to row together – because they enjoy and want to be in the same boat.

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