Build a Cultural Safe House For Your Team

Corporations, and frankly most organizations, can be pretty harsh environments to work within. This is especially true for creatives whose penchants for empathy, honesty and authenticity—all character traits that contribute to their professional success—can become a liability when having to navigate politically and socially treacherous waters in a negative company culture.

If your team is swimming in this toxic cultural sea and feels unsafe and in constant danger, you have an ethical and practical responsibility to support them in ways that will empower them to adapt to their environment in a healthy and sustainable manner. An unsafe environment dramatically impacts performance and engagement. Therefore, fundamentally, you need to turn your team’s physical, virtual and emotional workspace into a safe house.

Some tactics you can use to build your safe house include:

Control the information coming into your team.

  • Only communicate what your team needs to know to be able perform their jobs or to prepare for job security such as impending corporate financial audits and restructuring.
  • Conversely, even if the news is bad or unsettling, if your team is going to find out about it anyway or if it’s an important development they need to prepare for, you should share the news in the most productive and least dramatic way possible. If you don’t control the messaging someone else will and most likely not in a healthy or productive way.

Establish a microculture within the greater corporate culture that values kindness, collaboration and respect.

  • Create a team mission and vision
  • Establish practices and behaviors that encourage support and collaboration among team members
  • Acknowledge team members who exhibit positive behaviors
  • Model these behaviors consistently and continually
  • Stand up for your team members when they are confronted by a negative external culture

Establish a “Third Culture.”

Multinational businesses with groups in countries with conflicting work cultures have employed the Third Culture paradigm where they have groups experiencing cultural dissonance assess the attributes of their respective cultures, define the differences and commonalities that most impact their collaborative dynamic and then agree to create and adopt clearly defined practices and behaviors when working with each other that borrow from both cultures. You can leverage this methodology by applying it to your interactions with clients, management and other peer groups in your organization.

According to the Gallup polling firm, only 13% of the global workforce is “highly engaged.” Upwards of half the workforce would not recommend their employer to their peers and according to Dennison Consulting, “organizations with strong culture scores had significantly higher engagement scores. This suggests a strong relationship between the health of an organization’s culture and their employee’s individual level of engagement.” If you want a team that is happy and engaged and consequently performing at a high level then the first step is to create a culture where they feel safe, can pursue their work free of negative distractions and are empowered to realize their full potential.

Cella will be extensively exploring this and other business critical strategies tied to your team’s performance at our upcoming new iteration of our flagship professional development event, Beyond the Creative 5: The In-house Hack, being held in Philadelphia on March 28th and 29th.

Andy Epstein is an industry thought leader in the field of in-house creative. He currently serves as the Director of Studio Operations for Cella Solutions where he has oversight of the managed in-house agencies run by Cella. Andy has written and spoken extensively on in-house issues and published “The Corporate Creative,” a book on in-house design in the spring of 2010. He is a co-founder of InSource, the former Programming Director for the InHOWse Managers Conference, and a key member of Cella’s professional development team. Andy is focused on empowering in-house teams to raise their stature in the design and business communities.

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