A guide for HR leaders

Workplace culture starts with involvement

Chris O’Reilly

By Chris O’Reilly on Dec 21, 2023.

Workplace culture starts with involvement

It’s a human truth that we operate best in groups - in fact one of our most fundamental human instincts is the desire to cooperate and work together. Our most well organised and effective groups are what we call teams. What separates a great team from an ineffective group is a collective sense of involvement.

In a great team, the diluted power of many individuals is amplified by a factor of the number of people who make up the team. We’ve noticed that every great team - and every great workplace culture - share three basic features:

Everyone shares the same goal

The number one building block of involvement is a shared goal. The simple act of sharing the same goal galvanises people and turns a loose group into a team. Without shared goals working together is difficult, if not impossible. Sharing the same goals is vital to everyone working together. In a sports team, shared goals are easy to set - we want to win the next game, then win the championship. In an professional organisation it can be harder to set and align goals. But that’s what defines the most effective CEOs and senior leadership teams - the ability to set goals that the entire organisation can buy into.

Everyone is a decisionmaker

In a culture of high involvement, everyone is empowered to make decisions when it affects their work. This is increasingly important in today’s hyper fast world, where communication technology means that there often isn’t time to ask your supervisor what to do when a tricky situation arises. That’s why the most high performing customer service organisations have customer-facing team members who are empowered to make decisions and compensate customers without having to ask their bosses for approval.

Everyone is listened to

Going to work everyday is no different to a conversation - to feel like you’re involved, you need to be heard. Every high involvement workplace culture is defined by the degree to which it listens to its people. Listening is also the most direct route to increasing productivity. If you want to know how to do a task more effectively, ask the person who does it every day. That’s one of the greatest and most underappreciated truisms of management. It’s remarkable to think that for much of the twentieth century we laboured under the misconception that supervisors and outside consultants could tell people how to work more effectively. It took the Japanese and their revolutionary kaizen system of incremental improvement from the factory floor to make us realise that the first step to greater productivity is listening to your people.