It's your most important challenge as a leader.
If you are leading a team or an organisation, it's likely that your success will have more to do with your ability to build a healthy culture than with systems or budgets. The research on leadership suggests that the higher you go, the more important the 'people' skills become.
You'll need to build trust amongst the team members, to motivate them and get them to believe in the team's potential. That's a healthy culture.
It's almost all about emotion - feelings of trust, confidence, belonging, achievement, loyalty. For you, it's also about handling your team's frustration, disappointment and insecurities - and your own.
If that seems a little soft, imagine what would happen if your team were dominated by cynics who resisted every improvement you wanted to make, or who had no confidence in themselves or the team. Even if you're saying, 'that's just what it's like now,' there's hope.
There are some simple steps you can take to build a healthy culture.
In a sense you become an emotion coach - a leader who promotes healthy ways of handling emotions. That's not the same as suppressing them. There's nothing healthy about having a workplace that hides from conflict for instance. A conflict of ideas is essential. Even a having team members express genuine anger or frustration can be healthy, but disgust or contempt towards another team member or client could poison your valuable relationships long-term.
Let's get specific about what you can do to create or enhance your healthy culture. Here are my top 10 - ideas that researchers have picked up from the most effective leaders they've observed around the world. I haven't ranked them.
1. Set the rules
For instance, no put-down humour, open discussion, no complaining behind someone's back, no demeaning of anyone. In our team we describe the over-riding rule as 'to act in good faith'.
2. Be optimistic
Your own optimism can be powerfully persuasive. Make optimism your discipline. It may sound false, but you can choose optimism over pessimism and after a while that will be the way you view things anyway. Giving in to pessimism would be a choice too, but it will spread through the team like a virus. Adopt the attitude that any setback is simply a challenge.
3. Be comfortable with other people's feelings
It's a choice you make. Encourage your team to tell you how they are feeling. If they are annoyed or disappointed with something you've done or not done, accept the feelings, even if you disagree with the facts.
4. Focus on problem-solving, not on blame
It's important that team members take responsibility for their mistakes but blaming, harping on about whose fault it was, destroys confidence and innovation.
Make it part of your culture to look for the learning opportunity in every mistake or misjudgement. Look beyond the obvious. Was it just a mistake on the spur of the moment, or did the person who made it not have the right information? Human error is often a sign that the system wasn't designed to allow for it. Could you change the system to ensure that the same mistake doesn't happen again?
5. Find ways to help the whole team relieve stress
Games can work well, so can barbecues, after work drinks, award ceremonies and celebrations of team achievements.
6. Practise fundamental respect
It's the respect you have even when other people oppose you, disagree with you, irritate you or let you down. Fundamental respect for team members, customers or stakeholders is an essential part of healthy relationships and a healthy culture.
7. Encourage your team to see other people's points of view
In meetings, invite the quiet members to comment. Welcome their ideas and their willingness to express their feelings.
8. Create opportunities to consult
Encourage your team to approach other teams they work with to listen to their needs. Ensure that they deliver on their promises and watch your internal customer service relationships take off.
9. Catch and report them doing good
Recognise success and effort be specific in your praise. "Thanks for staying behind to finish the proposal" or "I thought you handled that call very firmly, but diplomatically," is much more reinforcing than, "Hey, you're doing a great job". In your team meetings, name those who've put in a special effort. Make wall charts of your team's progress. Schedule celebrations for the big successes.
10. Promote the value of working together
There's an old Japanese proverb: "No one is as smart as all of us." (It's a very American translation.) Put it on the wall and as you recognise the team's achievements and individuals' contributions you can show how true it is.
I mentioned the proverb to our team once. It's been quoted back many times. That's fine by me.