What is a ‘good’ team culture anyway? And how do you make it?

The Australian workforce is changing. We are moving away from our manufacturing roots to embrace more service oriented, project based work. Increasingly Australia is becoming a ‘project-based economy’ (Crawford, French & Lloyd-Walker, 2013).

Here we are looking at employment by industry from 1984–2014. It reflects the overall trend we see in the Australian employment sector. In 2016 we would likely see a hike under ‘mining’ due to the recent mining boom!

In a project based economy workers join together in a temporary team or organisation to achieve a common goal, before moving on to their next project (Pettigrew, 2003; Soderlund, 2012). In these working environments effective teams, who produce quality results quickly, are important for employee, team and organisation success. But what is a ‘good’ team?

A ‘good’ team is an effective team. It is made up of a number of employees with complementary skills who see themselves as ‘mutually accountable’ for achieving team outcomes. Part of what makes a team effective is team culture.

Culture refers to the beliefs, expectations and behaviors that define a team, team members and team interactions (Shin, Kim, Choi & Lee, 2016). Culture is the sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit values, beliefs and expectations that exist among team members.

Culture at the team level can differ from organisational culture (Schein, 1992). But team culture is just as important as organisational culture for enhancing employee performance, team performance and organisational success (Adkins & Caldwell, 2004; Shin, Kim, Nam Choi & Lee, 2015). So it’s clear— team culture matters and creating a good team culture can have massive benefits. But what is team culture?

A good team culture encourages employee satisfaction and team performance. It has:

1. Standards

A good team culture has positive values, norms and standards. It promotes:

a. achievement (or excellence),

b. harmony and cooperation, and;

c. respect among team members.

2. Diversity. Differences. Conflict

A good team culture encourages diversity and differences in opinions. It encourages conflict.

There are two types of conflict:

  1. Good conflict — team members differ in ideas, they disagree in an effort to achieve the very best outcomes. Usually conflict occurs because team members have different ideas about the team task.
    Research tells us this type of conflict can lead to great team performance, particularly when teams are focused on cooperating and finding a resolution (Alper, Tjosvold & Law, 2000). Who would have thought conflict can be good!
  2. Bad conflict — you know the type, it’s what you see on most drama shows with screaming and yelling. It’s dysfunctional and achieves little as team members often aren’t listening to one another. This conflict typically occurs around interpersonal relationships within the team.

3. A learning orientation

A good team continuously strives for excellence. To achieve this they adopt a learning orientation, each team member strives to continuously update their knowledge and skills in their area of expertise. Growth becomes part of the team culture. Research tells us that teams who adopt a continuous learning orientation outperform those who don’t. (Renato, Dordio, & Rebelo, 2014).

4. Trust.

Trust within a team refers to the mutual belief amongst team members in the reliability, truth and ability of each team member, and the team overall (Ford, Piccolo & Ford, 2016). A team culture that has trust is seen in the confidence team members have in interactions with one another, sharing of information and reliability on one another to achieve team tasks. Trust has been identified as integral to the success of both face to face and virtual teams (Ford, Piccolo & Ford, 2016; Collier, 2015).

5. Clear direction.

A good team culture has a clear sense of direction. The team encourages, sets and emphasises clear employee and team goals. All members understand how their role helps to achieve team and organisational goals. This fosters a collective sense of purpose amongst team members and helps to avoid unnecessary conflict (Collier, 2015).

Research tells us that task related goals in particular are important for the effective functioning of teams and creation of a good team culture. (Thomas, 1999).

6. Support. Recognition. Reward.

A good team notices and rewards team and employee effort. Reward & recognition (R&R) is tailored to preferences — if the team prefer a quiet lunch to an outlandish awards ceremony then so be it. Tailored R&R is more likely to be successful than generic, one size fits all options. Together these behaviours help to create a team culture that is rewarding, supportive and great to be around.

Remember creating a good team culture is unlikely to be an ‘overnight success’. It takes commitment, but the short term work will pay off in the long run by a healthier, happier and more productive team culture! Who wouldn’t work in an environment like that.


· Adkins, B., & Caldwell, D. (2004). Firms or subgroup culture: Where does fitting in matter most?Journal of Organizational Behaviour, 25, 969–978.

Alper, S., Tjosvold, D., & Law, K. S. (2000). Conflict Management, Efficacy, and Performance in Organizational Teams. Personnel Psychology, 53, 625–642.

· Collier, A. (2015). Culture Matters. Law Practice: The Business of Practicing Law, 41, 44–47.

· Crawford, L., French, E., & Lloyd-Walker, B. (2013). From outpost to outback: project career paths in Australia. International Journal of Project Management, 31, 1175–1187.

· GlobaLeadership Foundation (2016). Creating A Great Team Culture. Retrieved from:https://globalleadershipfoundation.com/deepening-understanding/creating-a-great-team-culture/

· Heathfield, S. M. (2016). Team Culture and Clear Expectations. Retrieved from https://www.thebalance.com/team-culture-and-clear-expectations-1919255

· Lowe, P. (2012). The Changing Structure of the Australian Economy and Monetary Policy. Retrieved from: http://www.rba.gov.au/speeches/2012/sp-dg-070312.html

· Pettigrew, A. M. (2003). Innovative forms of organizing: international perspectives. London, United Kingdom: Sage Publications.

· Prime Capital. (2014). The Changing Structure of the Australian Economy. Retrieved from: http://www.primecapital.com.au/the-changing-structure-of-the-australian-economy/

· Renato, P. L., Dordio, I. D., & Rebelo, T. (2014). Effective workgroups: The role of diversity and culture. It is a Brazilian Journal, 123–132.

· Schein, E. H (1992). Organizational culture and leadership (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

· Soderlund, J. (2012). Orgnaization of Human Resources in a Project-based Econcomy: Towards an Analytical Framework. European Academy of Management, 1, 0–13.

· McAtavey, J., & Nikolovska, I. (2010). Team Collectivist Culture: A remedy for creating team effectiveness. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 21, 307- 315.

· Shin, Y., Kim, M., Choi, J. N., & Lee, S. (2016). Does Team Culture Matter? Roles of Team Culture and Collective Regulatory Focus in Team Task and Creative Performance. Group & Organization Management, 41, 232–265.

· Thomas, D. C. (1999). Cultural Diversity and Work Group Effectiveness: An Experimental Study. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 30, 242–263.


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