Whether your team is two people, 20 people, or 200 people, getting intentional about team culture and investing in your team’s collective growth can help you thrive as individuals, as a group, and as a creative business.
Here are some tips for creators looking to build a warm and welcoming team culture.
Be intentional together
Remember that team culture is something you get to build, so you and your collaborators, employees, and colleagues should take every opportunity to make it the best it can be. The first step? Get clear on your goals and ideals so you can build it together.
(As you hop into this section, be sure to document your outcomes and keep them somewhere that current and future team members can easily reference. A project charter, fun series of posters, team manifesto, or a simple Google Doc could do the trick!)
- Define what “culture” looks like for your team or creative business. This is a great workshopping opportunity with the team. Figure out how you want your mission, working process, or shared values to manifest in team culture, and write it down in a sentence or two. Maybe you want your team culture to be “a mutually supportive and inclusive creative environment where everyone can bring their full selves to work” or “an inspiring and collaborative environment where we all see ourselves as sequins on the same ball gown.” It’s all about what feels right to you.
- Identify the pillars that support that ideal. Next up, take those couple sentences you wrote down and figure out a few things that underpin them. Maybe your ideal is anchored in trust, collaboration, and inclusion, or curiosity and harmonious independence.
- Then determine team “norms” as supportive guidelines. Now that you and the team are aligned on your top-level goal(s) and the pillars that support it, it’s time to figure out how to put it all into action. Try coming up with a short list of practices that bring that ideal team culture to life. (Think of this list as a shared understanding of how you operate, not as rigid constraints or controls.) For instance, an inclusive team might want to encourage team outings to not just revolve around alcohol, or a flexible team might want to avoid big ships or meetings on Friday afternoons. After you and the team decide on a handful of norms to try out, periodically set aside dedicated time to check in and iterate.
Communication, communication, communication
At the heart of any strong and happy team culture is good communication, so getting thoughtful about your team’s communication culture is a big deal.
- Make space for input. If you’re running the show as the business leader or manager, be sure to communicate that all ideas are valuable, and then walk the walk. You probably won’t end up actually pursuing every idea that comes up, and that’s totally okay! But demonstrating that everyone and their ideas are truly and equally valued helps folks feel safe speaking up and going out on a limb, and can make the difference between a team that operates and a team that thrives.
- Listen up. If it’s your business, you might do a lot of talking, especially when it comes to offering key guidance or pointing out the North Star everyone is working toward. But it’s important to try to listen at least as much as you talk. (And when receiving feedback, listen extra diligently.) Your creative business or project, and your team, will be all the stronger when there’s room for more voices and ideas in the conversation.
- Make feedback un-scary. Feedback is a good thing. Encourage and offer it early, often, and openly, center plenty of positive feedback in the mix, and make sure you’re receiving feedback too — not just giving it. Consider sharing a Situation-Behavior-Impact framework (more on that below) with the team so everyone can hone their feedback-giving skills.
A Situation-Behavior-Impact framework is a popular way to give clear, precise, useful feedback to others. It looks like this:
Situation – The time/scenario where a particular action or behavior took place
Behavior – What the person did
Impact – The effect the action or behavior had
- At this week’s rehearsal, you were really open about how much effort it took to learn the new scene. That helped me understand how big an ask I’d made of everyone.
- During Tuesday’s team sync, you passed the mic to newer team members twice. They both shared how included and welcome that made them feel.
Create psychological safety
Let’s put this right out there: A business isn’t a family, and neither is your team. You can have a strong bond and a deep personal commitment, and that’s special, but working for someone is ultimately an exchange of services and compensation. Calling a team “family” can create a toxic environment (even when you’re totally well-meaning) that can lead folks to personalize feedback, feel like lines are blurred, and make it tough to draw work-life boundaries or share when they’re struggling.
If you’re hoping for a tight-knit team, try the following tips as you establish an environment that acknowledges and respects individual boundaries, gives folks a sense of happy stability, and makes everyone feel like they belong.
- Only good surprises. Feeling like you’re on solid ground is key to building trust and comfort on a team, and as a leader of a creative business or project, the way you respond to things can have an outsized impact on the folks working with you. Predictability can go a long way. Don’t surprise team members with bad reactions, and be especially mindful when someone comes to you with difficult feedback or a big challenge.
- Foster inclusion and belonging. People aren’t going to do their best work in a space where they feel like they can’t be their authentic selves. So try to create an environment where folks can be genuine and open about who they are. Make diversity of all sorts a central tenet of your hiring (think: “culture add” not “culture fit”) and inclusion core to all your practices. Educate yourself on cultural and lifestyle differences, learn about unconscious bias, don’t let microaggressions go unchecked, and keep in mind that you don’t know what you don’t know, and that every day is an opportunity to learn from each other.
Most of all, be kind
Whether your team is fast-paced, formal, free-spirited, or all of the above, kindness goes a long way. Lead by example, give praise readily (and to everyone), and go out of the way to be sensitive and thoughtful during tough times. A good team culture is one people want to be a part of, and one you can be proud of.