Team Culture Components

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

When a project manager takes over a team from another leader, he or she must first learn the team’s culture.  That’s as important as discovering the project’s progress toward reaching their assigned goal.  You must examine the team culture and determine if it is contributing to the team’s success or failure. If the team is successful, it’s very likely the culture is the right one for the targets they’re trying to reach. It would be a big mistake to try and change the team culture to something you, the leader, are more comfortable with. You should leave well enough alone. A good leader adapts their leadership style to support an existing team culture that is working.  Leading Teams Main Page

Team Culture Foundation

The team culture results from a combination of several things:

  • the project manager’s leadership style and techniques
  • each team member’s personal experiences
  • the “baggage” each team member brings with them
  • each team member’s personality, standards and goals.

The team members’ experience on prior teams creates expectations for the current team culture. Those expectations cover everything from negatives like the need to avoid blame, to positives like the rewards they receive for delivering good results. If the existing team culture isn’t working well, you need to know the type of team culture you’ve inherited. That tells you what kind of problems you’ll have to solve. You need to understand the team members’ experiences and expectations to be able to build a successful team culture.    Team Building

Team Culture Components

Team culture is composed of four components. The proportions of each component determine the unique culture of each team.

  • Affiliation – this team culture component measures the amount of trust, feeling of partnership, and synergy between the members.  Some teams exist solely for the purpose of this togetherness.  Examples of teams with high scores on affiliation between the members might include social clubs, support groups and religious congregations.
  • Task control –  this component is an orientation toward predictability, stability and order. The team leader controls what’s happening to ensure the team follows the correct methods and procedures. They must follow all the rules to get the job done. Hierarchy, stability and proven methodologies are very important in these team cultures.  Examples of teams with high scores on task control orientation would be a group of workers on an assembly line working along side robots or a prison road gang cleaning trash from the side of a highway. (Do they still have those?)
  • Personal development – this component deals with the orientation toward the development and personal growth of the team members.  Creativity, dedication and commitment to the purpose of the team are very important. Examples of teams with high scores on personal development might be computer skill clubs or leadership clubs.
  • Professional competence – this component of the team culture deals with the orientation toward achieving excellence in their work and profession. Here there is pressure on team members to be “the best.” That means they are creative professionals who know their business and use the best practices when they do their work.  This ingredient is very strong in management consulting teams and winning sports franchises. These team cultures put peer pressure on all the members to be the best at what they do. Team Motivationteam culture

Team Culture Rules and Behavior

No team has only one of the four components. Every team culture has all four components in various strengths.  Teams blend these four components into a culture that defines the rules people must follow to be a member of the team.  The team members, not just the leader, enforce the team culture. A new team member joining an established team will make mistakes. There is a learning process to understand what rules and behavior are important in that team culture and which are not. A new team member finds this out by trial and error and by watching other team members as well as the team leader. They learn how to behave and how to talk to other team members in a way that fits this team’s culture. For example, a team member coming from a team with a strong affiliation component will have a steep learning curve when joining a team where professional competence is the strongest component.  They will behave in a way that is very nurturing and supportive of other team members. The existing team members will view this behavior as inappropriate. Their culture uses peer pressure to emphasize performance excellence and being “the best” in the profession.

You can learn how to build a successful team culture in our online project management courses.

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Author: Dick Billows, PMP

Dick has more than 25 years of project and program management experience throughout the US and overseas. Dick was a partner in the 4th largest professional firm and a VP in a Fortune 200 company. He trained and developed 100's of project managers using his methodology. Dick is the author of 14 books, over 300 articles and director/producer of 90 short project management training videos. He and a team of 25 project managers work with client companies & students across the US and in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. They have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project performance. Books by Dick Billows, PMP are on