5 powerful ways to improve your IT team's culture right now

Want a happier, healthier, more productive team? Consider this expert advice to foster a work environment based on support and collaboration
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Culture is a key aspect of team performance and organizational health. In today’s world, teams that are actively included and engaged in the conversation are more productive and experience higher work satisfaction. Intentional support and development are needed to support a strong culture that enables opportunities to change and grow.

Improving team culture feels like a big step, but you can break it down into these simple tenets:

  • Shifting how we phrase questions
  • Changing how we interact with people
  • Recognizing each other as human beings

[ Want to learn more about making a big impact on business culture? Watch the entire session on-demand from Red Hat Summit! ]

Culture is everyone’s responsibility. Here are five easy ways to create a healthier, happier IT work environment.

1. Set an agenda

Making meetings and conversations open and engaging for all may seem like an overwhelming prospect. Creating an agenda sets clear expectations to make meetings more productive and increases the feeling of safety for those joining.

[ Also read Burnout: 3 steps to prevent it on your team. ]

A well-crafted agenda provides background information, purpose, goals, and ways to prepare. Agendas may reduce the cognitive overload for attendees having to simultaneously read, comprehend, think, and respond instantly.

2. Establish purpose and connections

Knowing the purpose and intent of a conversation or activity helps us answer two important questions: “Why are we attending?” and “What do we hope to get out of the time together?”

A carefully chosen icebreaker can be integral to the agenda to create a more productive or successful meeting or event. It helps set the tone and can lead to amazing results in subsequent meetings and conversations.

For example, the Network Mapping icebreaker creates a visual map of commonalities between individuals on a team (loves to cook, has a ferret, runs marathons, etc.). This reduces awkwardness between people and transforms potential silence into engaging conversations for the duration of the meeting or activity.

3. Make room for others in the conversation

Whether the conversation is online, in-person, or asynchronous, creating an inclusive environment encourages more diverse thought and creates an opportunity to hear all voices.

To do this, take a step back to observe the situation and how people react to the conversation. If some team members are not contributing, here are a few tips to draw them in:

  • Develop a more explicit agenda
  • Ask participants direct questions
  • Directly contact soft-spoken individuals
  • Show vulnerability by asking questions, even if you already know the answer, to help encourage participation

These tips help create a space with a diversity of thought and encourage participants to share openly and have their opinions heard.

4. Address gender bias

Gender is ingrained in the way we talk and view things. Terms like “fireman,” “mankind,” and even “boys and girls” are often used to generalize groups of people. We can consciously change what we say to be more inclusive and choose words that better match our intent.

Here are some more inclusive alternatives that can help reduce gender bias:

  • People, humanity – instead of mankind
  • Workforce, employees – instead of manpower
  • To staff, to run, to operate – instead of to man
  • Begetting, creating, fostering – instead of fathering

Using inclusive words helps to create a more psychologically safe environment for those who may not otherwise feel comfortable. It also helps break unconscious biases about jobs, roles, and how we think about each other.

5. Recognize the team versus the individual

Recognizing and celebrating successes should be done as a team. Take the time to point out a team deliverable, a release, or even a report – if it’s a group effort, it’s a group outcome and there should be group recognition.

Find something valuable for the team. Maybe that’s a hack-a-thon day, an afternoon at an escape room, a happy hour, or a gift card…whatever it is, it should make the team feel appreciated.

How do you discover what makes your team feel appreciated? Listen. Ask. Listen again.

Call to action

If you can’t currently claim that you enjoy your job and feel like you belong, there is an opportunity for cultural improvement. The changes discussed here are easy to implement and will help you create a more fulfilling culture.

How will you know if you’ve succeeded? Recognizing that the culture has shifted isn’t always obvious when you’re in the middle of change. In addition, measuring culture change can be subjective and observational, and not easily quantified. Create a cadence where you reflect on changes to your team’s behavior and on how naturally you evolve your own behavior by adopting these tips.

Changing an existing culture may feel like a giant hurdle to overcome. But it takes only a single action, voice – or dance move – to start improving IT team culture.

[ Leading CIOs are reimagining the nature of work while strengthening organizational resilience. Learn 4 key digital transformation leadership priorities in a new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. ]

An agile coach for more than 11 years, Matt is passionate about adapting working environments for customers to innovate while ensuring individuals and interactions are never sacrificed. He is always striving to find new fun and immersive ways to learn and teach others.
Nicole is a reformed software engineer trying to make the world a better place, one agile principle at a time. Her mission revolves around removing roadblocks to provide you the best possible path on your agile journey.