Team Climate vs. Team Culture

Listen to an introductory press conference for a new head coach and you’re almost guaranteed to hear reference to “changing the culture.” This is not surprising given most are being hired to turn-around an underperforming team. There is anticipation. There are expectations. There is hope!

Several years ago, we witnessed such a transition first-hand. To be clear, year one was tough. Despite energy and enthusiasm, the talent cupboard was bare. Yet most supporters clung to the promise of potential and a better future ahead. Year two started with a bang, as the team raced to a near unbeaten non-conference schedule while talks of post-season play dominated the airwaves. The coach was hailed as a genius, credited with “changing the culture” in record time.

As we described last week, organizational culture tends to be shared by all or most members of a tribe. It is something that older members usually try to pass on to younger members. It shapes behavior and structures perceptions of the world. Culture includes deeply held values, beliefs and assumptions, symbols, heroes, and rituals. Organizational climate, on the other hand, is often defined as the recurring patterns of behavior, attitudes and feelings that characterize the current state of the organization. It is the shared perception of “the way things are around here.”

The following seven reminders are important cautions of the difference between climate and culture.

  1. Climate is shallow and erratic. Culture is deep and enduring.
  2. Climate measures the current organizational temperature. Culture regulates the organizational temperature.
  3. Climate is dependent upon present circumstances. Culture withstands present circumstances.
  4. A positive climate follows success. A positive culture withstands success.
  5. Climate change is easier and can come quickly. Culture change is hard and takes longer than we would desire.
  6. Climate is a team’s reaction to present events and circumstances. Culture enables a team to respond to unforeseen events and persevere during difficult circumstances.
  7. Climate leaders are reactionary by nature and prone to choose the quick fix based on short-term results. Culture leaders are intentional by nature and are willing to choose the difficult road that leads to lasting impact.

And as for the above mentioned team? Had the staff exchanged decades of unmet expectations, fan frustrations, and losing attitudes for a winning mindset capable of withstanding the grueling ups and downs of a full season? Unfortunately not. The team lost 5 of its final 6 games and missed the post-season yet again. One tough loss led to another, and before realizing what was happening, the culture reassumed control and the climate resorted to its historical norm. For this team and its staff, the year was a painful, but essential, step in the difficult challenge of building a winning culture. While the coaches weren’t necessarily fooled by climate, they were forced to take additional measures to address the underlying culture, a culture that has since evolved and led to success on the field and beyond.

For those in the culture building business, advise your people of the challenges that lie ahead and the dangers of misinterpreting climate change for culture change. Next week we shift to practical application and share the first of our 10 steps to Crafting Your Culture.

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