Culture Is Built Top Down AND Bottom Up
The impact of good leadership in Corporate America on culture can not be overstated. The reality is your company has a culture, whether you’re aware of it or not. This includes unstated rules of engagement such as holding meetings where everyone has their laptops open, rituals such as taking new employees out to lunch on their first day, and accepted but harmful forms of behavior such as gossiping. There is a wide spectrum from positive to negative.
In every organization, there are the people who create the culture – executive leadership and influential team members – and the people who accept the culture – usually everyone from middle management and below.
However, if you’re not intentional as a leader about shaping your culture, it will be shaped for you, and most likely in a way that doesn’t lead to better employee engagement, retention, and satisfaction.
Leading By Example
A good leader will be intentional about shaping a culture that allows their team to thrive. A great one will lead by setting a clear and visible example.
This doesn’t mean that leaders have to be naturally outgoing, charismatic, and funny. In fact, with the right attitude, every leader can (and should) promote the culture they want to be embraced by their company by recruiting the right culture ambassadors and following suite.
Here are some examples:
- If you want meetings to start on time, you should show up promptly or even early.
- If you want people to feel celebrated on their birthday, you can sign a card or send a Slack message.
- If you want a culture of fun, you need to show up to events like team building activities ready to dive in first.
We recently hosted corporate team building events for two very different teams whose leadership led by example in beautiful ways
Enthusiasm Is Contagious
One team was comprised of young 20- and 30-somethings in a technology field. Some might call this group a bunch of nerds in a successful-Silicon-Valley-kind-of-way. We hosted back-to-back events that involved being silly at times (no one looks graceful in a 3-legged race!).
During the two days we spent with this lively gang, we came to learn who the co-founders were, and it turns out they were the most goofy, most energetic participants of all!
Whether they understood it or not, by jumping in and being the first to participate in a fully immersive way, they were leading by example. They were simply wanting to have fun themselves, and their team followed with enthusiasm.
With Age, Comes Wisdom, Not Boredom
The second team we mentioned consisted of a more seasoned team of bioscience professionals. These were the senior leaders of a well-known, successful company who hired us to host a team building activity as part of a larger off-site retreat.
We had our reservations about Senior Vice Presidents getting fully immersed with party-style board games, but from the moment the event started, these leaders were all in. We barely got our explanations out before each group dove into the team building activities with fervor.
It turns out that “all in” is one of this company’s mantras and it was clear this group understood that having fun is a great opportunity to create memories and bond with each other.
After all, a cohesive leadership team is an effective one.
Advice For Leaders Engaging in Team Building Activities
We learned some valuable lessons from observing these two groups.
- Show up to team building activities (or other similar leadership events) with an open mind. Embrace the spirit of humility, friendly competition, and if it’s a Grin Events activity, fun!
- Recruit culture ambassadors who can organize and rally your team around the set of core values you want them to espouse during the event. You don’t have to shape culture alone!
- Set an example of how you want your team to show up by being yourself. Don’t try to fake it. From the aforementioned meeting behavior to being willing to act silly, your presence and participation set the tone for your entire department or company.
- Outline expectations and show gratitude by asking your team to show up with an open mind too, and thanking them for their hard work.
- Incorporate fun into your corporate event mix. There seems to be a strong correlation between leaders who do a good job of leading by example and those who want to have fun.
To summarize, we think taking Gandhi’s advice of being the change you want to see in the world seems applicable to company cultures as well: be the fun you want to see in your culture. Do this by showing up authentically and embracing the role of culture creator you naturally have