Commitment culture

Why and how to adopt a commitment culture

This month, we look at the various types of culture that your organisation might exhibit, and invite you to explore a commitment culture. This was first written about before ‘agile working’ was valued, and has many similar characteristics.

Five types of culture

20 years ago, Baron and Hannah at Stanford University conducted some research into the prevailing culture of Silicon Valley startups compared with their likelihood of success.

You may not work in a startup organisation, but the current fast-paced and ever-changing environment requires the same amount of flexibility and entrepreneurial mindset if you want to survive and grow the business.

They identified five different types of general culture:

  1. Star culture: Recruits the most talented people in the industry and pays them the largest salaries
  2. Autocratic culture: One powerful leader who dominates how things run, how processes look and how employees behave
  3. Bureaucratic culture: Run by middle management. Usually follows strict guidelines on policies and procedures, rules and regulations
  4. Engineering culture: Employs technically minded employees who buy into challenging projects and the influence of their colleagues
  5. Commitment culture: Focuses on the relationship between the organisation and its employees, ensuring there are shared goals, values and behaviours so everyone works as a team

The researchers found the organisational culture and its underpinning values were the key predictors of long-term success as measured by the growth in market capital, and the chances of a successful IPO – and that the commitment culture was the most effective.

Do you recognise any of the above traits in your organisation or team? Which culture would you say best describes the way you work?  What’s the impact, good and bad?  What would you consider optimal?

Building a commitment culture

When I work with newly formed teams, or teams that need to change and improve, one thing I always focus on is the team behaviours.

There are a number of ways to work out behaviours that all team members align with and commit to. Here’s a process that I use quite often (this pre-supposes you have already identified the purpose, strategy and goals for the team to achieve). The outcome may be a list of components or behaviours:

  • Get each team member to reflect on the best team they were ever part of, why they liked it and what made it that way. Allow a few minutes for each person to tell their story
  • Extract the key factors. This could be things the stories have in common, or one or two things that aren’t common but that the team members are drawn to and want to adopt for themselves. These are often context-specific
  • Prioritise. This should be a small list of, ideally, no more than four behaviours that the team members sign up to
  • In order to bring this to life in a way that’s relevant to the team, and stop it being purely an intellectual exercise, discuss examples that relate to this team and their work that (a) demonstrate these behaviours in action (b) would violate the agreement. This enables everyone to have the conversation when they are feeling calm and before any difficult situations occur that might otherwise challenge this or encourage unhelpful behaviours
  • Decide how you wish to review the agreement. During this time, the team will be learning to let go of old habits and mindsets and adopt new ones, so it helps to consciously bring them into your rhythm of working. Usually, the best way to do this is in your regular operational review meetings. Set aside time to look at the extent to which the team members exhibit the agreed behaviours in between meetings, particularly success stories where things were working well
  • Allocate a bit longer, say after one or two months’ time, to discuss the agreed behaviours in hindsight. Have you got the right ones? Do you want to tweak the list? Setting it up as a pilot and agreeing a review date is helpful for those who are not convinced the final list is the right list
  • Agree your key criteria for success, alongside a process for the giving and receiving of feedback

Commitment culture: The BARCA model

During the four years that Pep Guardiola was in charge of FC Barcelona, they were one of the most successful football clubs in the world, winning an unprecedented 14 out of 19 trophies.

Football clubs typically follow the star culture, paying top money for the best players. Instead, Guardiola focused on nurture, common purpose and trust.

In the book, The Barcelona Way, sports psychologist Damian Hughes highlights five pillars of cooperation and commitment, using the B.A.R.C.A acronym:

B – Big picture: Companies need to have a clear sense of what success looks like and why they are doing things. Employees need to buy into the values and the culture as much as much as the leaders do, so they behave in ways that align to the organisation’s values.

Hughes suggests there shouldn’t be more than three values at any time. For example, FC Barcelona focused on humility, hard work and team.

A – Arc of change: Change is inevitable, so companies should be ready for all eventualities. The commitment culture emphasises embracing failure and having a plan to navigate obstacles.

R – Repetition / Recurring systems:  Employees like constant feedback and guidance on how to excel. Looking out for patterns of success can propel your team forward, especially during hard times.

C – Cultural architects: Cultural architects are those who live and breathe the culture, and have the values running through their DNA. They put the team above their own interests and help spread the culture throughout the organisation.

A – Authentic leadership: A leader who demonstrates authenticity, acts with integrity, and role models the behaviours they want the team to uphold. These leaders build and create the culture that drives the behaviours and ultimately produces results.

“Talent will get you into the dressing room. How you behave determines how long you remain there”
Txiki Begiristein, Director of Football

Tips for leaders

If you’re the leader of a team, there are two further things to pay attention to:

  • Authenticity of your leadership
    Actions speak louder than words. Are you role modelling the agreed behaviours consistently?
  • Keep the culture alive
    Make sure the agreed cultural behaviours don’t (metaphorically) gather dust on a shelf. They have to be embedded in the rhythm of the work, and you have to quickly address any bad behaviour and toxic team members

The team is only as strong as its weakest member. When recruiting new team members, make sure you hire, not just for skills, but also for cultural fit. I would say that ‘fit’ overrides skills, because people can learn skills but fit is harder to address if they don’t have the right mindset.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Albert Einstein

Related reading

Many components of a commitment culture are about agile leadership, where the role of the leader is to enable rather than to control. So you may find it helpful to read (or re-read) my articles about leadership agility, as well as some others that link to the points made:

Next month

How to deal with toxic team members