The Importance of workplace culture and positive team relationships


Andrew Carnegie – industrialist said “Take away my buildings and my machinery and leave me my people and I will rebuild.

Great attitude and when we think about it at its most raw then it is very true.

After all you could have the best building on the block, the most technology advanced machinery and systems but without the people to run these for you, you have nothing. Some may argue that robots can do the work but robots are made by and run by who??

I have heard it argued before that creating positive workplace culture is expensive and time consuming and a drain on the company – but it really isn’t and actually it can be totally the opposite.

Another myth is that cultures change slowly – the truth really is that it will change slowly when initiatives are ineffective, introduced slowly, or when staff lose trust and confidence in their leadership. The speed of any change is directly related to the speed that the company leaders get on board and demonstrate and support the change by their own daily behaviors.

One of the most effective ways of creating positive workplace culture is through fulfilling human needs.

Like any relationship when our needs are met by those around us we feel comfortable, confident, and motivated to stay in the relationship.

The Hierarchy of Needs theory was coined by psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”.

Who has heard of this one before?

The crux of the theory is that individuals’ most basic needs must be met before they become motivated to achieve higher level needs.

The hierarchy is made up of 5 levels:

  • Physiological– these needs must be met in order for a person to survive, such as food, water and shelter.
  • Safety– including personal and financial security and health and wellbeing.
  • Love/belonging– the need for friendships, relationships and family.
  • Esteem– the need to feel confident and be respected by others.
  • Self-actualisation– the desire to achieve everything you possibly can and become the most that you can be.

According to the hierarchy of needs, you must be in good health, safe and secure with meaningful relationships and confidence before you are able to be the most that you can be.

Let’s look also at the Hertzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

The Two-Factor Theory of motivation (otherwise known as dual-factor theory or motivation-hygiene theory) was developed by psychologist Frederick Herzberg in the 1950s.

Analyzing the responses of 200 accountants and engineers who were asked about their positive and negative feelings about their work, Herzberg found 2 factors that influence employee motivation and satisfaction…

  1. Motivator factors– Simply put, these are factors that lead to satisfaction and motivate employees to work harder. Examples might include enjoying your work, feeling recognized and career progression.
  2. Hygiene factors– These factors can lead to dissatisfaction and a lack of motivation if they are absent. Examples include salary, company policies, benefits, relationships with managers and co-workers.

According to Herzberg’s findings, while motivator and hygiene factors both influenced motivation, they appeared to work completely independently of each other…

While motivator factors increased employee satisfaction and motivation, the absence of these factors didn’t necessarily cause dissatisfaction.

Likewise, the presence of hygiene factors didn’t appear to increase satisfaction and motivation but their absence caused an increase in dissatisfaction

This theory implies that for the happiest and most productive workforce, you need to work on improving both motivator and hygiene factors.

To help motivate your employees, make sure they feel appreciated and supported. Give plenty of feedback and make sure your employees understand how they can grow and progress through the company.

To prevent job dissatisfaction, make sure that your employees feel that they are treated right by offering them the best possible working conditions and fair pay. Make sure you pay attention to your team and form supportive relationships with them.

Here’s another one – The Expectancy Theory – This proposes that people will choose how to behave depending on the outcomes they expect as a result of their behaviour. In other words, we decide what to do based on what we expect the outcome to be. At work, it might be that we work longer hours because we expect a pay rise.

However, Expectancy Theory also suggests that the process by which we decide our behaviors is also influenced by how likely we perceive those rewards to be. In this instance, workers may be more likely to work harder if they had been promised a pay rise (and thus perceived that outcome as very likely) than if they had only assumed they might get one (and perceived the outcome as possible but not likely)

Expectancy Theory is based on three elements

  1. Expectancy– the belief that your effort will result in your desired goal. This is based on your past experience, your self-confidence and how difficult you think the goal is to achieve.
  2. Instrumentality – the belief that you will receive a reward if you meet performance expectations.
  3. Valence – the value you place on the reward.

 You will see where I am going with this and how it relates to the importance of workplace culture and positive team relationships.

 But first a some of me.

Before I made the move to Australia and the stunning Gold Coast I was living in the UK and worked for a Company Called Avenair Telecom. Avenair Telecom was a French owned telecommunications company. I lead up the HR function for the UK Branch sitting on the senior Management team directly reporting to the Managing Director.

In 2008, as we all know the world took a turn and we found ourselves in a Global Financial Crisis.

The global financial crisis (GFC) or global economic crisis is commonly believed to have begun in July 2007 with the credit crunch, when a loss of confidence by US investors in the value of sub-prime mortgages caused a liquidity crisis. This, in turn, resulted in the US Federal Bank injecting a large amount of capital into financial markets.

By September 2008, the crisis had worsened as stock markets around the globe crashed and became highly volatile. Consumer confidence hit rock bottom as everyone tightened their belts in fear of what could lie ahead.

The events of 2007/8 have shaped both the current UK commercial and business scene and are now having a massive effect on the public sector.

So here we were – a company that supplied Mobile phone accessories and data plans staring down the eye of tightening belts and uncertainty about being able to continue trading.

So how do you keep your teams motivated to keep performing, keep going and keep turning up each day with a positive and forward thinking outlook?

It’s easy to understand why many people panic when thrust into difficult situations – mortgages to pay, food to out on the table, rent, loans, family etc. – the list goes on. As a business owner and as a leader

There’s no doubt that when times get tough, the demands placed on every team member increase significantly. Given that pressure is already likely to be quite high without outside demands, the additional effort and focus required to navigate through difficulties at work and the increased level of uncertainly can be tough for many people; however, the critical nature of getting through tough times means you can’t be too lax, or you won’t make it through.

This is why it’s crucial to strike the right balance between firmness, fairness and having a sense of fun.

Show your teams a side of you that understands the difficult position you are in, but let them know that you believe in them, believe in the business and that as a company we are all strong and dedicated enough to get through it if they work together.

Linking this back to the theories –

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Chip Conley, founder of the Joie de Vivre hotel chain and Head of Hospitality at Airbnb, used the Hierarchy of Needs pyramid to transform his business. According to Chip, many managers struggle with the abstract concept of self-actualization and so focus on lower levels of the pyramid instead.

Conley found one way of helping with higher levels was to help his employees understand the meaning of their roles during a staff retreat…

“In one exercise, they got groups of eight housekeepers at a table and asked an abstract question: if someone from Mars came down and saw what you were doing as a housekeeper in a hotel, what name would they call you?

They came up with “The Serenity Sisters,” “The Clutter Busters,” and “The Peace of Mind Police.”

There was a sense that people were doing more than just cleaning a room. They were creating a space for a traveler who was far away from home to feel safe and protected.”

Conley’s team were able to realize the importance of their job to the company and to the people they were helping. By showing them the value of their roles, the team were able to feel respected and motivated to work harder.

The Expectancy Theory – The key here is to set achievable goals for your employees and provide rewards that they actually want.

 Rewards don’t have to come in the form of pay rises, bonuses or all-expenses paid nights out (although I find these are usually welcomed!) Praise, opportunities for progression and “employee of the month” style rewards can all go a long way in motivating your employees.

Another study not mentioned already is the Hawthorn Effect – this study suggests that employee’s work harder if they know they are being observed. I am NOT recommending that you hoover over your employee’s all day (Micro-management is not cool) but I am suggesting that you can try giving regular feedback, let you team know that you know what they are up to and how they are doing. 

Showing your employees that you care about them and how their working conditions may also motive them to work harder. Encourage your team to give you feedback and suggestions about their workspace and development.

How did I combine these at Avenir to pull us through these tough times and keep the team motivated and positive for the future?

We had fun while we worked HARD and every one of the senior management team kept their door open, came out onto the office floor, kept communicating, listening and encouraging their team.

If someone did leave they were not replaced but instead we re-grouped and cross trained other’s through mentorships and coaching. We carried on learning and preparing for the brighter times we believed were coming. We remained strong, positive and agile.

We were open about the budget constraints so asked for suggestions and actioned what we could. We had a suggestion box in the staff room. Idea’s implemented were given a voucher to say thanks. One was to change the way we used paper – recycling printed paper to use the other side – another was to change the lightening to turn off no essential lights and use more natural lights as well as investing in longer lasting more cost effective tubes. All this save money for the company and made a difference – everyone made a difference together.

We had an org chart that was a big wheel with all the different cogs to signify each team – it was clear then that each team knew they were important to keep the wheel going.

Our access cards – when I first started they were white cards – no identity. First thing I did was get a photo printing card machine and gave everyone a sense of belonging – a person and not just a payroll number. They belonged and they were important.

And as for FUN – Here’s some low cost highly engaging example’s

World’s Biggest Coffee MorningMacmillan Cancer Support. The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning is Macmillan’s biggest fundraising event for people facing cancer. We ask people all over the UK to host their own Coffee Mornings and donations on the day are made to Macmillan.

 We created an Avenir Telecom MacMillian Coffee Morning Recipe Book. Everyone was encouraged to give in their favorite recipe and the marketing team created a recipe book.

On the Coffee Morning Day (Sept in the UK) they made and brought in that recipe all made so we could taste test.

Everyone brought a piece of the entry for 1 GBP and then voted for the favorite and they could also purchase the cook book. We to raised funds internally for MacMillian Cancer and also invited our suppliers and customers to purchase the cook book for 5GBP. The buzz in the office was electric. I still have my cook book and still use some of the recipes.

On top of that each month different departments would have a charity of choice and we would do additional fundraising for that.

We had “The Big Pink” – Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I lost mother to Breast Cancer in 2006 so this one was close to my heart. We all dressed in pink for the day. Donated a few GBP and we judged the best dressed. We also had a bake and sale.

BBC Children in Need – Team Pudsey – we dressed in spots and again judged in the best outfit.

What do all these activates do? They build a positive environment and bring everyone together.

Alongside this we encouraged manager and supervisors to celebrate small wins – team high fives, post it notes on computers saying, “awesome job” – acknowledging team members as they came in each day and as they left each night.

Birthdays – Managers and Supervisors were given 20GBP to buy a present for their team member. No Vouchers was the rule – this meant that the manager and supervisor needed to get to know their teams which encouraged communication. It also showed the employee their manager listened when it was a gift that was just for them. Being acknowledged HUGE.

Think back to the theories – what were we doing – we gave Praise, opportunities for progression, showing teams we care about the charities they support, showing how important they were to the business, linking them back in every way and every day to the business.

None of this costed a lot and none of it took a massive amount of time but what it gave was priceless. The benefit to the business was nothing you can put on a balance sheet, cannot be recorded in the profit and loss but can be shown by the fact that many of the team members all still work together and although the company has changed many moved with the company, with the mangers and with the same team values.

You can do just that too – it’s not hard and it’s not impossible.

 The Benefits of Creating a Positive Culture in Your Workplace

  1. Employees can get on with their jobs, improving productivity, rather than focus on what is going wrong with the company, and the leadership team
  2. Employees are proud to work for positive Company and share their experience with their social networks, enhancing the company brandKnowledge and experience is shared between employees which improves efficiency, productivity and performance
  3. People enjoy coming to work and are more committed to the company, reducing the huge costs of turnover
  4. Employees go home happier and more satisfied, and this impacts their families and friends.

Building a positive workplace culture is highly beneficial for companies. When companies employ initiatives that focus on people and meeting essential human needs, they build positive workplace cultures that thrive in challenging times as I have demonstrated with the Global Financial Crisis.

I have created an eBook – 50 ways to energize a workplace – Which you can download for FREE


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To finish as I stared with a quote from Andrew Carnegie,

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results”

Thank you.

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