By Sameer Bhangar, Simple Intentions Awareness Consultant
As a corporate manager, thinking about squishy things like culture can be an afterthought – especially when there are more pressing deadlines, business strategy discussions, quarterly objectives, and customer demands to be met.
One solution for busy managers is to delegate the task of creating a healthy and engaged work environment. One might delegate this to HR counterparts, business managers, passionate employees, or bring in external consultants and trainers.
Considering two ends of a spectrum, two approaches a manager might take are:
- Delegate all culture-related activities and conversations to the “support” team, or
- Act as if you have it all figured out and don’t require any support.
As a leader, where are you on this spectrum? What is your role in creating a healthy team environment? How do you participate in team culture-related activities, and what message does this send to the team? Is this a conscious decision, or are you simply following along and checking boxes? Are you asking for help, or do you have it all figured out?
I was recently leading a series of workshops with a large team that included a number of managers and sub-teams. I was struck by the difference in the quality of conversation when a manager was engaged and present with the team, versus when the manager sent the team to attend or showed up, but sat in a metaphorical ivory tower position “outside” the conversation.
When managers engaged in open conversation, they created implicit permission for the team to also speak openly. The conversation had a feeling of enthusiasm and active curiosity. The team engaged in topics they had never before discussed. Greater trust began to form in an organic way that no training slide could ever accomplish.
For example, one manager raised a question on fear and disempowerment, which led to an unplanned breakout activity that prompted a healthy exchange around what currently feels empowering versus disempowering to the team. In addition to the insights raised during this activity, it initiated a conversation the team planned to continue during regular staff meetings. The ice had been broken so to speak – or, more accurately, it had started to melt away.
In contrast, at sessions to which managers did not attend – or attended but disengaged – I noted a clear missed opportunity. The opportunity to create a richer, more open conversation at a team level was unfortunately lost. I was left with a lack of optimism that the workshop would initiate any kind of sustainable change for the team. It was a loss for the team.
This experience reinforced for me the seemingly obvious truth that “culture starts with the leader.” If, as managers and leaders, we are interested in creating a healthier work environment, we need to show up first. Show up with an open mind to participate in the conversation, ask for help when needed, and learn with the team along the way. This is one responsibility that does not belong on a manager’s list of tasks to delegate. Nor is it common that a manager already has it all figured out.