How (not) to Build Company Culture through Relationships

Recently I was taking an executive team through a session focused on both creating a business strategy for the company and strengthening the team. Everyone was highly engaged in the process, sharing opinions and dialoging about what the future could be - except for the CFO. This fellow would respond to my requests and offer opinions when asked, yet otherwise sat silently without showing much emotion.

Just as we were about to take a break, the CFO suddenly stood up. His jaw was clenched and his face was a bit flushed. "I want to tell you all something I've been thinking about for some time," he began thickly. "I believe I've figured out our problem."

Jabbing his finger around the room, he suddenly blurted out: "All you people need a heck of a lot more teamwork!"

I wish I could make this stuff up.

Now for the rest of the story...

Reading this, you may be thinking "Aha. I see the problem. An out-of-touch team member. Yep, I have at least one person on my team who's just not with it."

And you would just be scratching the surface. The CFO's comment, while humorous on the surface, was actually a flashing warning light.

The real problem holding this team back was the culture the CEO, not the CFO, had built - one relationship at a time - with every single person on that executive team.

You get what you project

If you observed the CEO carefully, you might begin to believe she considered others merely as ways to get things done. She did care about people, yet primarily in how those people could serve the goals she thought were important. Personal interactions were merely transactions toward the outcomes she desired.

The kicker was that while she was professionally polite in public, privately she would explore the problems of each person with others. While the intention was to help the situation, people began to suspect if she talked about others that way to them, she was probably talking about them to others.  Team members started feeling mistrusted and began to blame others when anything went awry. Hence the CFO's outburst.

And whether or not it was entirely the fault of the CEO, it was her responsibility to correct the problem, to move from being part of the problem to being part of the solution

The leader and I worked together privately afterwards. Once she realized the impact of her implicitly disrespectful behavior on the team, she wanted to get everyone together to announce a new direction. I advised otherwise, sharing with her that a group of people cannot feel respect - only individuals can.

After a series of one-on-one meetings exploring what each person wanted from the team, she rebuilt her relationship with each team member, and surprise! The team began interacting differently.

While they aren't yet where they want to be, this team of people is well on the path to success.

The CFO? Last time we spoke he shared that he was a bit surprised that everyone - including himself - had a lot more teamwork.

Actions you can take today

  • Take 10 minutes and write down the characteristics of each relationship you have with your team members. This isn't what you or they are doing - it's about the quality of the relationship itself. Anything stand out? If so, share your thinking with that person - by taking responsibility for how you're showing up and what you will do differently. Bonus points if the other person follows your lead and commits to an improved relationship.
  • Take 10 minutes and think about the major challenges in your organization. Brainstorm some ways you could be directly or indirectly impacting those challenges. Choose one challenge and one relationship that could positively impact that challenge. Partner with that person to make a difference. Lather, rinse, and repeat as needed. Bonus points if you see other people in the organization starting to echo your approach.        

How do you see the power of relationships affecting teams? Read the short follow-up on my blog to see what other people think.   

To learn more about services we provide to help leaders succeed, visit the Trebuchet Group website or give us a call at 970. 672. 4749.

Chris Hutchinson