Busting the 5 biggest culture myths for IT teams 

 In Leadership

Think culture doesn’t matter because you’re in IT? Think again.

IT is one of the most invisible departments in a company. Because your wins are everything working without a glitch, no one notices the massive amount of preparation, dedication and hard work that goes into your job every day.

It’s that ignorance from other departments that makes it CRITICAL that you know how to build the right culture for your team.

Before you can do that, though, you need to understand what it is and, more importantly, what it isn’t.

Definition: Workplace Culture

People think of “culture” now the way they used to think of “the cloud.” It’s one of those mythical, figments of someone’s imagination, concepts that exist, but that hardly anyone understands.
There are two reasons for this:

  • The word “culture” has so many definitions, it almost doesn’t mean anything anymore
  • Culture isn’t tangible, so it’s hard for people to wrap their heads around

Let’s be real. If you asked 10 people to give you a definition of culture, you’d probably get 12 different answers. There’s so much confusion around the word that no one understands what you mean when want to talk about culture.

So we’ll start with a basic definition.

Workplace culture is a way to bring your team together and align them around a specific idea, goal or vision. It creates an atmosphere, a camaraderie and an environment where your employees want to come and do their best work.

Even that definition, though, is a little hard for people to grasp because it’s still intangible.

In the same way the cloud is a complex infrastructure that connects people across the globe, workplace culture is an infrastructure that connects employees throughout your organization. It’s is shaped by policies, people and practices.

When you have policies in place that define what good looks like for your organization, you’re shaping culture.
When you hire people because they’re fun or they’re dedicated or they’re innovative, you’re shaping culture.
When you let actions slide that don’t fit your idea of who and what your company should be, you’re shaping culture.

There are so many different types of workplace cultures because leaders prioritize different ideas and have different goals. Though it may look different from business to business, the foundational pieces are all designed to do one thing: align your team to your vision for the future.

Myth #1: Culture isn’t important.

Some leaders truly don’t believe in culture, despite the numerous studies that prove culture stimulates business growth.

According to one study, that’s to the tune of 2.5x faster than companies with less engaged workers.

When you build a culture that creates engaged employees, you increase productivity by more than 10 percent; get better customer ratings, reviews and referrals; and increase sales up to 20 percent.

That’s not to mention the benefits to your employee recruitment and retention strategies.

Strong cultures naturally attract the right type of qualified talent and increase employee referrals. What’s even better is they’ll do all that and still cut the cost per hire in almost half.
The scary thing about this myth, though, is that there are people who believe it whole-heartedly, but don’t necessarily voice it. Instead, their disbelief comes out in toxicity that ruins team cohesion, stunts productivity and pushes qualified talent to other businesses.

Make no mistake, if you have more than two people working in your business, you have culture. Just because someone doesn’t believe in it doesn’t make it go away. It just makes it an obstacle to your overall growth.

Myth #2: I can’t do anything about my team’s culture because I’m not the CEO.

Employees at all points in the hierarchy love to use this as an excuse because they lack the self-awareness that their actions have an impact.

It’s true that workplace cultures function best when the CEO is the one leading the way, but it’s not always necessary.

You can build a clear departmental culture for your team around KPIs, long-term goals or ideals like innovation and growth. Setting the core isn’t difficult and can align with a corporate culture initiative if you have one. The hard part is following through on a micro level, and that starts with who and how you hire.

When you have the right people sitting in the right seats, building cohesion and a culture is so much easier. When you add to that vetting processes or questions to make sure your prospects agree with your vision for the future of your team, you’ve begun shaping a lasting culture that’s aligned and focused toward a common goal.

If your CEO doesn’t believe in workplace culture, align your team around the goals or KPIs your leadership team expects of you. A goal-centered department culture works well in this scenario because it’s focused on concrete data that’s not likely to change anytime soon. That gives you and your team the stability and foundation to build something solid.

With or without an organization-wide culture, you can create your own within your team that makes your employees their most engaged and productive.

Myth #3: Culture is only about the pay & perks.

One of the most common examples of companies that do workplace culture right is Google, whose culture is based on the ideas of creativity and fun. Because of that, their offices (so far as the articles show) look like an adult child’s playhouse.

Perks aren’t inherently bad. Google uses them, as do several other companies. They provide tangible reminders to something that’s otherwise intangible.

Just as perks aren’t the full picture of culture, neither is pay. Both can be used as cultural devices to show that you care about your employees as individuals and help motivate them towards a common goal, but they cannot stand alone and function as workplace culture.

If you’re in the fitness industry, gym memberships or discounts at certain stores may be good monetary incentives to reinforce a culture of activity and health. If your business is creative, offer your employees regular discounts on art or photography classes to get them looking at things from a different perspective.

There are ways to reinforce your culture through pay incentives or perks. Tacking 20 percent more onto a check and calling it culture, though, isn’t going to get you the long-term benefits that come with engaged and motivated employees.

Myth #4: Culture is something we build once, and don’t have to think about again.

Workplace culture doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it’s shaped and molded by every employee.

It’s the daily actions and reactions that truly determine your culture.

When you hire the candidate who fits your team dynamics over the one who wouldn’t, you’re defining your culture. When you’re transparent about the goings-on in your business instead of letting gossip run rampant, you’re defining culture. When have employees work on solutions when they have complaints, you’re defining culture.

Like any other function of your business, though, workplace culture has its own stressors – the biggest of which is company growth. When you’re rapidly expanding your business, two things happen:

  • You must prioritize where you put your time and energy
  • You must hire new people in a short time frame

Your team is responsible for getting each employee ready to work – setting up workstations, ensuring proper access rights and managing building access fobs or codes. If the sales team decides to double in size, you’ve got to be very intentional about how and where you spend your departments’ time.

Depending on your growth rate, you may need to hire additional technicians or engineers to help your team manage the influx of work caused by that growth.

If your employees don’t believe in your vision or buy into your culture, it’s extremely difficult to prioritize it as your work increases or as you train new employees.

Myth #5: Culture isn’t for IT teams.

Have you ever heard, or maybe even said: “My guys are just a different breed. This is just the way they work.”

Stereotypically, your technicians and engineers are going to check out the second you mention anything about culture, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care about how their team functions or what their role is.

Culture isn’t just about the touchy-feely emotional side that so many business books would have you believe. When you’re talking about culture building for IT teams, you’re building a picture that clearly identifies where your team fits into the overall goals of the business.

You’re giving them context that they’re not just the ones who get called when something breaks. You’re showing them how they play an integral goal in the success of your business. For a department whose successes are largely overlooked and whose failures are put under a microscope, this context has immeasurable benefits to productivity and innovation within your department.

There are so many benefits to reshaping, rebuilding or enhancing your workplace culture, but it comes down to you to lead by example. Your team isn’t going to magically show up one day with a vision or a drive to make the company better. You have to lead.

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