From as far back as I can remember I have always been fascinated by the ‘thing/s’ that make people and teams succeed. Why was it that some classrooms at school seemed better learning environments than others; why did some sports teams relationships seem to differ so much; why certain military groups or formations seemed so much tighter and in-tune; and why businesses I’ve worked with varied so much in terms of atmosphere and work environment.
On reflection, I’ve been guilty of mis-using the term Culture and the impact this might have on immediate success. I suppose like most people I’ve always thought it was that ‘thing’ that makes us all belong and feel part of something. Perhaps Culture (it has many definitions) can be described as the ‘personality’ of a team or organisation; which includes behaviours, customs or traditions, and beliefs, at a particular time. This certainly contributed to the good teams I have experienced, however, what is obvious is that Culture takes a long time to develop, an even longer time to change, and is very difficult to measure.
So if Culture is the personality, what about the environment or the mood? This – I know now – is the Climate, and importantly this is what really affects performance. Crucially, but not surprisingly, this is directly impacted by leadership; and reassuringly it’s measurable and you can improve it quickly.
When I think back to school days, my ‘best’ subjects were those where the teacher created a Climate that was good for my learning – they were also my most successful subjects and ones I went on to study in my further education. Conversely, the classrooms that were frosty, inconsistent, rushed or confused, were often the result of poor teaching and an ineffective Climate that was detrimental to my performance.
Whilst playing individual sport, my coach had a huge influence on me, my effort and engagement, and my ultimate success. In a team, we collectively created a Climate for success – setting achievable goals which the team bought into; people were clear on their own roles and were utilised based on their strengths; the tactics or process was fully understood and appreciated; strong connections between team members developed both on and off the field; coaches taught us to be reactive and adaptable to change, to be resilient, deal with setbacks and we would bounce back even stronger.
In the military one could tell the difference in Climate between different sub-formations, almost immediately. You often learn later in your career, just how much of an impact you have as a leader on the success of the group you lead. It’s a big responsibility, but when that impact is understood, and the principles of Climate are understood, you can be much more effective. When deployed on intensive and complex operations, those units with the strongest leaders had the strongest Climate; were ultimately more successful, and were certainly more resilient and able to react quickly to operational changes.
Perhaps the best illustration of the impact of Climate was witnessing first-hand an ineffective and self-serving leader, who didn’t create a successful Climate: they poorly articulated and misunderstood goals for the business; created mixed and confusing roles and responsibilities; developed ineffectual internal processes; had a resistance to innovation and change; and team connection was virtually discouraged though fear of a mutiny occurring! The result – which was all down to toxic leadership – was a deeply unhappy and disenfranchised workforce, an alarmingly high staff turnover and an environment of fear and apprehension.
So what have I learnt? That understanding Climate is the keystone to building and maintaining successful teams; that leadership profoundly impacts Climate and therefore team success; and that Climate is measurable and able to be improved, relatively quickly.