In a business climate that feels like a hurricane looms perpetually on the horizon, I’ve noticed an optimistic trend. Culture is a rising priority among CEOs. The most enlightened see positive values and a safe, equitable environment as key components of success.

It seems contradictory that with the increasing focus on technology, there is also growing concern with people and how they behave. This new awareness isn’t surprising. Many groups experienced difficulty with communication and motivation during the pandemic. And, remote work continues to make some employees feel isolated and disengaged.

The Great Resignation and “quiet quitting” are symptoms of employee angst that have forced bosses across industries to take notice. Greater sensitivity to diversity, equity, and inclusion also has leaders investigating how to help employees from different backgrounds collaborate while building stronger teams.

No matter what factors have turned attention to the interpersonal dynamics of work, the emphasis is overdue. It’s not hard to understand that when people feel stressed, unhappy, unheard, and undervalued, they won’t be a productive team. I can’t answer why we waited for employees to spell it out for us before considering strategies to promote their well-being; but I’m glad to see the tide moving in a positive direction.  

Build a Sustainable Foundation

Kevin Martlage, .orgSource Senior Consultant, is our expert at maximizing group potential. Along with years of corporate and nonprofit team-building, Kevin is also a certified Myers-Briggs practitioner. He loves helping people bring their best selves to a workplace that strives to support their most ambitious goals.

“Culture is the X factor,” Kevin observes. “A robust profession with members who are eager for new products and services is not enough. Culture is the foundation that allows you to be sustainable.  When Associations understand that powerful idea, they can weather the storms and grow.”

Bob Risser, PE, President and CEO at the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute, is a leader who puts culture first. Over the last three years, Kevin has been working with Bob and his team to fine-tune interpersonal awareness for a group that are already advanced students.   

Founded in 1954, the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute is the technical institute and trade association for the precast, prestressed concrete structures industry. As a technical institute, PCI develops, maintains, and disseminates the Body of Knowledge for the design, fabrication, and erection of precast concrete structures and systems. There are 31 PCI team members.

Respect Chemistry

Bob understands that by making PCI an exceptional place to work, he is also building an outstanding team.

“Team-building is an evolving journey,” Kevin advises. “Every organization has a different chemistry. At PCI, we began by identifying a common purpose and goals, or their unique DNA,” Kevin recalls. “We set out to discover the touchstones for the team’s interactions and activities. Through ideation and strategy, we arrived at these seven qualities that characterize their culture:

  • Service
  • Collaboration
  • Accountability
  • High-performing and results-oriented
  • Diversity
  • Work/life balance
  • Fun

A commitment to communication and trust is interwoven through these qualities.

Then we dug deeper to describe the behaviors that each criterion represents for the group. For example, collaboration was of high importance, and someone who demonstrates that trait would—”

  • Encourage collaboration
  • Ask for help
  • Establish team member roles
  • Establish the team and lead
  • Give constructive feedback
  • Welcome and act upon feedback

This level of specificity provides a common language for the group to describe the professional environment they are seeking to achieve. It makes conversations about attitude and behavior objective. 

With this framework firmly in place, the next step was to begin exploring how PCI could enhance internal service among the team and throughout departments. To create ownership in the process and advance the initiative, PCI leadership appointed a Culture Committee. The committee identified communication, trust, and conflict resolution as competencies for ongoing development. Bob has dedicated time for Kevin to explore each of these areas with the staff over the coming months.

Be Intentional

Even silver-tongued communicators were challenged by two years of electronic conversations. When you are separated by a screen, it’s easy to view yourself as the center of the dialogue. Kevin is helping the PCI team take their interactions to the next level by practicing intentionality.

When you’re separated by a screen, it’s easy to view yourself as the center of the dialogue.

“Intentional communicators bring a sense of responsibility and thoughtfulness to the conversation,” Kevin advises. “Speakers are called on to deliberately choose words that accurately convey the meaning and the purpose of the interaction. While listeners are responsible for hearing what is said before formulating a response and asking follow-up questions that ensure they have correctly understood. Both participants must be aware of context, or unspoken emotional dynamics and backstory that might influence the outcome.”

Intentional communication asks participants to find mutually beneficial outcomes by moving away from “I” and toward “we.”

Build Trust and Resolve Conflict

Developing trusting relationships and navigating conflict resolution are natural segues from communication. Kevin will guide the team through these issues in the near future.

I am impressed to see PCI investing resources to explore areas that are frequently swept under the carpet simply because they are difficult or might be controversial. Every organization benefits from investing time and effort to improve these competencies.

It is difficult to quantify trust or to rate a group’s tolerance for constructive criticism and divergent opinions. Although these qualities seem intangible. They have a profound impact on operations and ROI. I view both as critical to success in a digital environment.

Trust allows work to flow smoothly.

Trust is a superhighway that allows work to flow more smoothly. It removes barriers and reduces time and expense. When teams trust one another, plans are made and executed more quickly. And understanding how to reconcile differences objectively takes the emotion out of problem-solving and makes brainstorming and analysis effective.

“The Myers-Briggs Inventory is another helpful tool in strengthening relationships on every level,” Kevin observes. “It identifies how people prefer to receive, assimilate, and act on information. The inventory is also a fun and effective way to ease into conversations about communication, behavior, trust, and other interpersonal issues that are important to keeping culture on track. But, even when an entire staff has not actually taken the inventory, the concepts can be used to create awareness about how to differentiate workstyles and approaches.” 

Understand What You Don’t Know  

Guiding groups through sensitive topics can be challenging. I asked Kevin what obstacles he encounters and how leaders can support him. 

“It helps me when leaders are open and honest with their teams. People can feel threatened when outsiders are called in to work with them. When leaders are clear with me and their employees about what they want to achieve, that sets a baseline for trust at the beginning of the consulting process.

“It’s the consultant’s job to help clients identify what great looks like based on their goals. There are no cookie-cutter solutions. Depending on organizational strengths and weaknesses, we may not go through the same steps with every client.

“PCI already had a great team. We are building on that strength. And the progress is being noticed both by the executive committee and by the staff themselves as their work processes become more streamlined.

“Navigating the unknown is another significant issue,” Kevin notes. “Some organizations don’t have a model for a positive culture. So, the biggest hurdle is helping people understand what they still need to learn. No one has all the answers, but we’re going to explore your organization together and discover where you can create positive change.”

In the past, it was difficult to overcome the idea that because this work involves relationships and emotions, it wasn’t as important as activities that produce a measurable outcome. Now everyone understands that there is more than one storm on the horizon, and in rough weather it’s the positive feelings we have for, and about, our colleagues and our mission that keep everyone pulling together. I’m glad to see culture trending in tandem with technology. We all benefit from the intersection of digital and human ingenuity.