One of the hallmarks of human civilization is our special ability to consolidate our labor and brain power and organize ourselves into big, complex groups. As a species, we’ve achieved many great things this way, and every successful business, large and small, reflects this triumph of the human mind and spirit. Such cooperative ventures work because of the powerful combination of individual effort and team collaboration.
When it comes to corporate culture, people sometimes view “the team” and “individuals” as two separate or even opposed groups. But I like to see them as two sides of the same coin—two halves of a complete whole, strong, self-reinforcing, and interdependent. A strong culture leverages individual effort and team collaboration in equal measure.
Corporate Culture and Individual Effort
Corporate culture has a direct impact on individual effort by providing the right environment for people to do their best. A culture that visibly practices and lives out its values day to day encourages individuals to embody those values too. When employees know which behaviors and actions are encouraged and rewarded by the organization, they feel comfortable in their role and can perform their duties freely. A positive corporate culture enables employees to reach their full potential by cultivating confidence in themselves and their work.
Conversely, an emotionally draining or draconian culture has the opposite effect, making employees doubt themselves and mistrust their coworkers and supervisors. Such a culture produces employees who drag themselves through each day, listless and fearful of being reprimanded for the slightest oversight. That’s bad for individual morale and bad for business: unhappy employees make unproductive employees.
But when employees understand the expectations and are rewarded for following them, they can move freely without one foot on the gas and the other on the brake. This boosts individual output and encourages discretionary effort—when employees perform with a greater level of commitment and energy and go above and beyond their normal responsibilities.
Corporate Culture and Team Collaboration
A positive, well-defined, and supported corporate culture can also dramatically affect team performance for the same reasons. Emotional stability is just as critical in a collaborative environment, which depends on mutual support, respect, and encouragement (and a certain freedom to make mistakes without fear of reprisal). If a negative culture makes individuals doubt themselves when making decisions, that self-doubt is multiplied many times over in a group situation.
A negative corporate culture can give rise to Machiavellian politics, backbiting gossip, and indecisiveness. When people are unsure how and why decisions should be made, they feel unsafe and are less likely to stick their neck out. But when a group of talented people has clear expectations, know their mission, and possess a firm understanding of the values of the organization, their innovative capacity is unleashed.They’re free to do great things, knowing they’re acting within an organizational culture that supports them.
More transformative human capital strategies can be found in my book, Take Care of Your People: The Enlightened CEO’s Guide to Business Success.