There is a huge consensus among business leaders about the importance of teamwork in order to achieve a challenging goal or to win a contest. Individuals who willingly commit to the goal of the group add to its potency and effectiveness. Yet the alignment of goals in an organisation is not automatic. Organisations ripe with conflict and strife rarely emerge as top performers in their field. This is where the organisation’s culture comes into play.

The Cambridge English Dictionary states that culture is “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time”. This can be viewed as an issue of alignment (I will do it because I want to) versus conformance (I will do it because I have to).

Conformance is an environment where people do things because they must. Whereas alignment means people do things because they agree with them. We should not dismiss a command-and-control conformance behaviour as necessarily bad. Sometimes it’s the ideal way — passengers on a sinking ship have a greater chance of survival if they follow the orders of the captain. But if that’s the way your business environment typically functions, you’re likely to end up shipwrecked time and time again.

So what can managers do to help people work effectively in a team? Let’s start with the good news – we are already nearly there. In most organisations, everyone comes to work with the aspiration to succeed. The question therefore is: How do we channel it into an effective unit?

Here are some pointers about building an aligned culture that succeeds

Competition helps ignite positive teamwork

There’s nothing like an external threat to draw everybody together to work effectively. An airport car rental business has a motivated workforce delivering quality service because its rival is right next door. Organisations without competitors can easily become inward-focused, wasting their energy on minor internal disputes.

Good leadership unites team members to strive for a common goal

Most teams look to someone to set the direction. Commercial organisations are no different. A leader who can articulate a vision and then inspire commitment will be more successful than where there is no clear, practical leadership.

Inclusion means sharing ideas at all levels to create a sense of solidarity

If there is demand for a higher level of performance, then those at the point of execution are more likely to know what needs improving. They will adopt new behaviours and standards if they have been included in the design of those new behaviours. They will adopt them because they agree with them.

Performance expectation is vital

Having included people in setting standards and designing behaviours, it is important for them to uphold the new processes. This is particularly true with issues that are not proven or established. Demand performance and make it mandatory. Tweak the new process and include others in working out what the adjustment should be. Trust that as new behaviour improves, acceptance will grow and the culture of performance will shift in its direction.

It takes time for a new process to be sustained

An effort to lift performance that dissipates after a few weeks drives morale down and makes changes even more difficult in the future. In general, a new way of working takes two to four weeks to become established behaviourally and about two months before its value is seen by most team members through conceptual understanding. Getting it embedded so that it no longer needs active support can take over a year.

Recognition boosts team morale from the bottom up

Team members will perform much better if they believe their roles are acknowledged and recognised and their contributions are valued. A culture that recognises team members’ efforts will outperform its rivals consistently.