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Creating an Effective Team Culture in an Unsupportive Environment

November 27 2017 - by Dr. Lois Parkes, CLP's Regional Project Manager

Occasionally, in interactions with leaders, particularly mid-level leaders, this question is raised – how do I create an effective team culture within my team? This is usually asked against the context of the questioner/leader assuming a leadership role for the first time, or they have a new leadership role in a different organisational context. Typically, they would have inherited their teams, and observed a plethora of dysfunctional organisational habits in their environment. Common examples of this organisational dysfunction include weak performance management and accountability systems, ineffective or no planning, poor conflict management, lack of staff engagement and empowerment and poor communication.

These team leaders are earnest in their desire to build an effective, high-performing team, but find themselves with team members who are very demotivated, and who sometimes point to the wider organisational dysfunctionality as the source of their demotivation. For these team leaders, they often feel as if the environmental characteristics are stacked against them. So what is a team leader to do in such a context? Before you read any further, it is important to advise that leading in such a context will be challenging, and requires all the tenacity and leadership skills that one can muster. However, the following advice (with the required effort) could assist in making some headway towards developing an effective team culture:

  • Carefully and thoughtfully define your sphere of control. While it is great to have the vision for your whole organisation to be transformed, you may not be in such a position to make this a reality. So define your span of control and influence, which may be limited to your team that you lead.
  • Model the right behaviours. You can only control yourself and only you can determine the kind of team leader you will be. If you want to see increased punctuality, be punctual. If you want team members to be honest about mistakes they have made, own up to your own mistakes. You have to be the change that you wish to see.
  • Build relationships with your team members (even the unpleasant ones). It is very important to take the time to get to know your team members – their strengths, their preferences, their areas for improvement, who they are and what is happening in their world. Generally, people will not follow a leader who they feel is uncaring. Building that relationship becomes the avenue to authentically lead others. Some may say that this ‘building relationship’ with team members is time consuming, and that we do not come to work to be friends with your staff. However, this is not about becoming close friends with team members. This is about having an understanding of your staff so that you can better strategize with them in using their strengths, and fostering better individual and team performance. Authentic leadership is based on being one’s best self, and being able to facilitate others to also be their best selves.
  • Starting the conversation around a team vision. As the team leader, you must engage your team on developing a vision for the team. This will very likely be challenging; however, this team engagement is necessary, as you invite your team members to share in and own a vision of who they want to be and what they want their team to achieve. You have to extend an invitation to them to be their best selves, despite their environment.
  • Be patient and consistent. This will have to be an on-going process of engagement, and it is important to recognise that each individual can only change when they are ready to change, and understand the benefit of change. This process often takes longer than you would like. However, it is important to remain motivated, and to keep consistent with your own efforts of strategically building the relationships, capitalising on areas within your control, having the conversations that you need to have, and modelling the change you want to see.

As you reflect, you are invited to share your own experiences of being an effective leader and building an effective team culture despite being in an unsupportive environment.


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Lorna - Reply

Excellent ideas, and I will definitely be trying all of them. However, what if the Staff Member does not want to be in a team, even though she works very well? In other words, she is very competent technically and always delivers on time and within budget. Nevertheless, she is prickly, and other staff tiptoe around her.

Maybe your recommendation to be patient fits here, but do you have any more?


Lois Parkes

Thanks for your comments and question. In relation to the case as you've presented it, it seems that there is a need to provide feedback to/having a coaching conversation with the employee about their behaviour. In giving this feedback, focus on how the behaviour is impacting the dynamics and outputs of the team. 

vitillius holder - Reply

This conversation has come at the right time for me having started in my new role a few weeks now.  I have pulled out my presentation  table on "Team Synergy Elements" shared by the CLP team during my CLP interactions and trying to operationalize  because "A Sustained High Performance Team" is the vision for my team. Will definitely note the pointers above.

My journey has just begun and I will share later as to how we are progressing.



Lois Parkes - Reply

Thanks Vitilius for your comments. All the best in your new role, and we look forward to hearing your future insights gained as you continue your leadership journey


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Sharon Alexander - Reply

My appreciation to the CLP Team for keeping the Cohorts inclinced to the real life events. As a youg leader working in hostile environment, I have to always keep the force on Almighty God. It is through Him, I was able to overcome as I experienced the characterisitics shared in this blog.  I felt accomplished reading this message, knowing that it was by applying this approach that I was sucessful in achieving my work programme objectives.  If I should add, the leader also have to be themselves, be a leader and leader and dont allow the environment to change them. I have known of situation where you cannot tell who is the supervisor of a department since they all function on the same level.  What an inspiring message. 

Lois Parkes

Thanks, Sharon for your comments. Continue to overcome and have an inspired leadership journey

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