5 Keys to a Healthy Culture

I love Starbucks.  

Whew, I said it.  Admission is half the battle, right?  I feel better already.

Know why I love it so much?  Consistency.  Wherever and whenever I order a tall Pike Place in a grande cup, it is the same.

While I love Starbucks product, I equally do not like hanging out in their stores.  Why?  Inconsistency.  I never know what I am going to get when I go from one store to the next.  Some experiences are great, employees are kind, orders are right and you want to sit and listen to whatever hipster music is being played for hours.  Other times you can just sense that the vibe is off.  You realize that no one is happy to be working that day, you feel like you should apologize for your order, deep down you fear that the barista will poison your mocha, and no amount of Norah Jones music makes it better.  Ever have that experience?


One word:  Culture.  While the coffee is the same, the vibe can never be trusted.  

Same can be said of our churches, businesses and leadership teams.  We all have the same mission, but often one team just "feels" different and we don't know why.  What is most striking is that people can only be attracted to your mission for so long if you culture is weird.  

Culture is all about behavior.  Most leaders bypass it because focusing on it can be arduous.  That is shortsighted.  You can have a healthy team today and I want to help you.  Here are 5 steps to health.

1. Sell it.  

Not everyone cares about being "healthy."  Honestly, it takes a lot of time and feels unproductive.  You have to convince your team and leadership that it matters.  Otherwise people will play along just to appease you or shut you up.  The keys to selling anything is pointing to why it matters and who else it has worked for.  Use stories to communicate the need for a healthy culture and refer to other teams who are highly regarded as proof that it works.  

2. Define healthy behavior.

Culture is the mix of behaviors and attitudes.  Gather your team together and ask the quesiton, "Why do you love working here?"  Then listen for specific behaviors that people mention.  "We aren't afraid to confront each other in order to maintain trust."  "Our team is fun!"  Out of this create a list of behaviors that your team wants to guard and keep sacred.  Craft these into behavioral values that your team already lives out.  Values such as "Fight for Trust" and "Have Fun" could emerge.  Narrow it no fewer than 5 and no more than 7.  

Patrick Lencioni writes about this in 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.  Here is a FREE assessment for your team to go through.  

3. Honor health.

You need a system that reinforces value based behavior.  Our staff came up with a cheesy award called "The Marty Cup."  Marty is our lead pastor and has a good sense of humor about this.  Early each month I take nominations from our team for a staffer who has lived out our values.  At our first staff meeting each month I award the Marty Cup to the person who had the most meaningful nominations.  The majority of the time the winner cries.  It is touching to hear that others on the team value them.  That trophy cost me $9 and has been signficant in solidifying our culture.  

4. Have high expectations.

Your team is going to get busy.  Culture is slower moving and doesn't feel as urgent, so a team can lose focus.  Remind people of your values by asking simple questions.  Recently I was talking with someone on our programming team who was stressed because holiday services were approaching.  It was evident that they were not enjoying the process and positivity was not brimming.  I asked, "How are you making sure that you and your team have fun during this season?"  It forced them to pause, be reminded of why they love our team, and to intentionally inject some fun into their busyness.  

5. Deal with toxic behavior.

Healthy culture does not eradicate all unhealthy behavior.  This is the space where leaders lead.  In moments where issues arise, step in and tackle it.  Here is a post about how to have the conversations necessary to handle these problems.  Keep in mind that I specified "behavior" and not unhealthy "people."  Behavior can be forgiven and adjusted, toxic people need to be removed.  Have that conversation today, your team will thank you.

Dig in, do the work, grow a healthy team.  It will be worth it in the long run.  Now, let's go have a Starbucks.  You're buying, right?