Building a Thriving Company Culture in a Work-From-Home World
May 12, 2023 – In a WFH (work from home) world, creating an engaging company culture can be challenging. Many questions arise: How does one lead a team effectively without seeing them every day? How do you retain top talent? How do you hold people accountable in a WFH setting? But there’s one question that Tim Gardner of Teamalytics says should be asked first: What type of business success is the right kind?
“At Teamalytics, we believe that true success in business involves not just results, but also healthy relationships,” Dr. Gardner said. “While positive results are undoubtedly essential, they shouldn’t come at the expense of your employees’ personal lives. Keeping your workforce engaged and motivated without requiring them to come into the office is possible, but it requires a focus on relationships as much as it does on results. With 30 years of experience in leadership development, we’ve seen firsthand that cultivating strong workplace relationships is critical to achieving the right kind of results, even in a WFH world.”
A Case Study
Dr. Gardner provides one example his firm has witnessed. He points to his client Mark who was a true industry veteran with 20 years of experience in the energy sector. He had taken on the role of CEO at a start-up in the oil and gas industry, but the organization was not functioning as a team, let alone an elite team. Infighting, disagreements, and a lack of unity had led to a struggle in getting results. Mark was at a loss as to how to fix the situation, until a board member suggested that he get an executive coach. And that’s where Teamalytics came in.
“After our initial interview with Mark, the first thing we did was gather behavioral data from the entire executive team using our proprietary 360 profile,” said Dr. Gardner. “With over 30 years of experience in the leadership development field, we knew that this was a team conversation, not just an issue with the CEO. What we found was not surprising: Mark’s entire team experienced him as being independent, stubborn, and aggressive. He had high expectations that people felt they could never meet, and no one felt cared for, valued, or encouraged.”
Dr. Gardner explains that it was no surprise that people were considering jumping ship, and results were lacking. “But as the coaching process began, Mark became aware of just how it felt for others to be around him – and what he needed to do to change that,” he said. “People may try to let their team leaders know how they are coming across, but it often falls short as people struggle with the right words or worry about retaliation. It’s why many people in situations like this cast their vote by quitting.”
“But with our 360 process, Mark received real, accurate, and actionable feedback,” said Dr. Gardner. “This allowed him to start practicing adding or subtracting certain behaviors that would deepen and strengthen relationships with those around him. Creating awareness of where things are right now is a key to building healthy workplace relationships.”
Related: The Importance of Culture on Today’s Businesses
“Mark’s awareness and subsequent actions changed everything,” Dr. Gardner said. “As they sold their first start-up and moved onto round two, one of the first things Mark did was have everyone on the new launch team take the Teamalytics 360 Profile. They then went through a debrief and a coaching session with one of our coaches, followed by a Teamalytics team intensive where the whole team got to learn about their team’s strengths and constraints in a fun, non-threatening atmosphere. They became aware of how, as leaders, they impacted the people around them. They discussed their hybrid work arrangement that included Monday and Friday at home and Tuesday through Thursday in the office, and built deeper relationships. They discussed the results they wanted to have and started their journey to be a truly elite team.”
Building Elite Teams
The Teamalytics approach for building elite teams is based on the recognition that healthy relationships are a critical ingredient for team success, according to Dr. Gardner. “Our process focuses on learnable behaviors and attitudes that promote healthy relationships, which are essential to achieving optimal results in the workplace,” he said. “Our research and experience working with over half a million people and thousands of teams, including those in Fortune 500 companies, the military, professional sports, and education, have revealed critical leadership behaviors that are essential to building healthy relationships and creating elite teams.”
Going Beyond Personality Assessments
Too often, a lack of good feedback can cause teams to feel criticized, leading them to underachieve, concludes a new report from Teamalytics. The solution lies in an approach that helps teams clearly understand, take ownership of, and intentionally address the individual and group behaviors that were holding them back.
One of the firm’s core tools, the Teamalytics 360 Profile, measures 13 critical leadership behaviors and graphs them as a strength or as a risk of being overused or underused. For instance, Mark, as described in Dr. Gardner’s previous example, showed high criticality and low nurturing, indicating a tendency to overplay critical and demanding behaviors while underplaying those that demonstrate care, support, and encouragement. “Both these factors are crucial in building and maintaining healthy relationships. It is relationships and results that need to be the focus for creating elite teams,” Dr. Gardner said. “The following diagram illustrates what happens when that dyad is out of balance.”
Leadership and team behaviors have changed as a result of the COVID pandemic and the greater shift to a work-from-home/ work-from-anywhere environment, says Dr. Gardener. Before COVID, Teamalytics’ data showed that low nurturing was the most frequent constraint, with low criticality coming in second. However, since the pandemic and the shift to remote work, Teamalytics has noticed a change in the statistics. “Low criticality has now taken the top spot, indicating a struggle among leaders to challenge and hold their remote teams accountable,” said Dr. Gardner. “Meanwhile, low nurturing has moved to third place, suggesting that leaders are still grappling with how to build healthy relationships in a WFH environment.”
Overall, Teamalytics’ methodology emphasizes that healthy relationships are not a matter of luck or mystery but rather learnable behaviors and attitudes. The Teamalytics approach can help leaders develop the skills necessary to create elite teams, even in a WFH world.
The Current State of Your Workforce – What’s Next?
The current workforce is facing challenges in maintaining high levels of engagement. In January, Gallup reported a drop in U.S. employee engagement for the first time in a decade. This is compounded by the fact that “quiet quitters” – those who do the minimum amount of work required while being “psychologically detached” from their job – are estimated to make up over half of the current workforce. The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the actual quit rate among U.S. employees remains historically high at over four million people per month. While compensation and burnout are contributing factors, the lack of deep relationships in the workplace is another cause that should not be ignored. Gallup has always reported that feeling heard and valued is critical to employee engagement. With the WFH model becoming increasingly popular, team members want to feel heard, especially when it comes to their preference for flexibility.
Related: CEOs Realizing the Value of Culture
Dr. Gardner notes that the importance of flexibility in the WFH model is backed by research. A study by the Harvard Business Review shows that 59 percent of respondents rated flexibility as more important than salary and benefits, and 77 percent of employees preferred working for a company that gives them work from anywhere opportunities (WFA). Another study indicates that 83 percent of the workers who can WFA want their employers to provide those arrangements, at least on a part-time basis, and 32 percent of the remote workforce want to do so full-time. Supporting all of this is the fact that 85 percent of managers now believe leading remote workers will “become the new norm.”
The pandemic has changed the modern workforce, according to Dr. Gardner. Before COVID, only six percent worked primarily from home, while around 75 percent of workers never worked remotely. At the peak in 2020, almost 40 percent were exclusively WFA. That is currently around 26 percent, with approximately 66 percent WFA at least part time. By 2025, over 36 million Americans are predicted to be working remotely. Dr. Gardner says that it is crucial for leadership teams to be prepared for this shift and to ensure that their culture has changed to care for, support, encourage, and hold accountable those who are WFA or will be soon.
“To achieve this, it is important for companies to have a culture of achieving results and building relationships,” said Dr. Gardner.
“Such a culture will provide an advantage in achieving elite teams, which is what every company aims to achieve but only a few manage to do,” Dr. Gardner said. “Building elite teams requires a partnership between achieving results and building healthy relationships. By taking the time to intentionally get to know team members, working to care for them, and intently listening to them, a foundation of relational equity can be built that then allows teams to have healthy conflict, challenge each other, and hold one another accountable. A cutting-edge culture that creates workforce engagement knows how to build elite teams in a WFH world. It’s as simple – and as difficult – as that.”
Related: Designing a Winning Corporate Culture
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media