Building a team culture that is magnetic or lasts means better productivity, positive engagement, and higher retention. However, what has been largely overlooked by many business leaders is the essential foundation for a culture that sustains and thrives: Ethics. An understanding and common ethical language is missing for many organizations. This makes it impossible to establish a strong, cohesive culture where the interests of the individuals and the collective move forward together. In order for both the individuals and the collective whole to move forward together, a common language and appreciation for ethics is essential.
The Culture Fad
Culture is a company’s collective personality. To fit into a company’s culture, your personal attributes as a team member should be compatible with the personality of the workplace. Culture entails work environment, vibe of the people, values, and mission. Examples of cultural attributes are values like collaboration, creativity, learning, and professionalism. Culture also entails environmental preferences like a casual workplace with a dog-friendly environment. Culture entails policies and rules, like a work-from-home policy or a vacation policy. A strong collective culture fuels the individuals and therefore fuels the mission, since when the individuals are supported and motivated, they contribute toward the collective mission with energy and dedication. With a strong cohesive culture, the individuals are aligned and united around the mission, as well as around how the mission is achieved day-to-day in practice. A strong culture is one where individual peace and progress thrive, and therefore the company’s progress thrives.
Ethics as the Essential Foundation
Why are ethics essential for a strong culture to work and sustain? Ethics are principles that guide our behavior toward what is most good or guide as to what is the right thing to do in a given situation. Ethics guide how we conduct our work and how we interact with and respond to others. Aren’t these the most basic, universal actions of any organization? Surprisingly, these basic requirements can be very tough to align around without a common understanding and appreciation for what is ethical. Though the individuals in an organization may all value the work-from-home policy and free lunch, without a common understanding for how to communicate with each other, build relationships, and foster development for each person, the work environment and perks become obsolete. Though a company or team’s culture may change with time – the policies, the environment, the people, a common language for ethics are timeless. A common language, understanding, and practice of ethics is the basic foundation for any strong culture.
Modern Obstacles to an Ethical Culture
An ethical language is challenging to design and align around. Many companies define their culture as built around Integrity as a value. Most organizations describe integrity as “do the right thing” and stop there. However, this leaves many individuals asking: What is the right thing in a given situation? There are a few reasons that this isn’t so straightforward anymore. Firstly, we have become so accustomed to hearing “do the right thing” that it has almost lost its meaning. Secondly, organizations have diverse teams of individuals that have different perspectives on what “the right thing” is. Finally (and most relevant for our need for ethics now), with the fast-paced, dynamic society we live in, new products and situations arise everyday that require a newly interpreted understanding of what “the right thing”, or the ethical thing, to do really is. In many organizations, people on the same team are speaking a different ethical language and this causes misunderstandings and does not serve the mission. Many organizations believe that is human-centered action is prioritized, business progress and impact will be jeopardized. However, actually the opposite is true. If human-centered action is not prioritized, business progress and impact will be jeopardized.
Ethics in Practice
In a business environment, the culture is often professional and mission-driven, however, it so often lacks an ethical backbone. This is to say that it lacks a common understanding for what is acceptable and conducive behavior toward work and toward each other. In interpersonal situations like meetings, team projects, or when giving feedback, people do not know how to treat each other in a way that both serves individual peace and progress, as well as collective peace and progress. The result? Lack of ownership, lack of productivity, high stress, low morale, and ultimately poor retention. Teams become environments of animosity that are not aligned or focused on the mission. Without this foundation of ethics, productivity and retention are impossible. Therefore, without ethics, a strong culture is not possible. Building a culture without building it upon a common language and appreciation of ethics is like building a skyscraper on a foundation of sand. In harsh weather, when misunderstandings and debates arise, the shiny skyscraper you have built will waiver and come tumbling down.
Ah, the good news, finally. A culture built upon a foundation of ethics is a culture that will sustain and continuously thrive. How can you build a culture that that is build upon a foundation of ethics?
To build a strong culture, you must build a common language, understanding, and appreciation of ethics into your own cultural DNA. A common language of ethics can be found in Awake Ethics. This language of ten principles is a timeless system with clear, universal appeal. The interpretation and stories from the field are from recent business experience. Next, schedule regular ethics trainings for your team every quarter. With an understanding of ethics and time to share recent experiences as a team, you will feel more confident in your own decision-making. You will have a shared team understanding about what positive, constructive collaboration and interacts look like. Finally, encourage ethics. Incorporate ethics into performance reviews and acknowledge outstanding ethical behavior. Incorporate ethics into your cultural values, as the foundational value.
A common language, understanding, and appreciation for ethics is the foundation of a strong culture. Once you have the ethical foundation in place, then feel free to add your perks, policies, and decorations. A shared practice of ethics enables individual peace and progress, which fuels collective success. Ethics align and accommodate the desires of the individuals and the whole.
Get started in building your culture upon a solid foundation of ethics.
About the Author
Hilary Jane Grosskopf is the author of Awake Leadership: A System for Leading with Clarity and Creativity (2018) and Awake Ethic: A System for Aligning Your Action with Your Core Intentions (2018). She is a leadership guide, strategist, writer and Founder of Awake Leadership Solutions.