Brian is a smart guy. He works in a product development group as a technical expert. With over 20 years of experience, Brian also has worked in operations and in customer-facing roles, such as sales and marketing. He is passionate about the product and wants to make is successful both to satisfy customer needs and to help the company make money. He takes pride in his contributions to the product.
Samantha is Brian’s direct supervisor. She believes in team empowerment. She trusts her team members to make the right decisions based on appropriate data and she gives them the responsibility to plan and execute project work. Samantha has created a good working culture, right?
Wrong! Samantha’s team is working within a climate that is conducive to innovation. Culture is reflected less by behaviors and more by unspoken norms. Let’s take a look at the differences between organizational culture and team climate.
Culture is defined as a “set of shared beliefs, values, assumptions, and expectations.” An organization’s culture reflects its values and can be observed in the customs, norms, and rites of the group. The fact that Brian wears a tie to work every day and never questions the unwritten dress code is an element of organizational culture. A tie is an indication of a more formal environment, ad the policies and procedures at the company are also quite formal and detailed.
Newcomers to an organization are quick to sense both the culture ad the climate. The culture, however, is underlying the surface and is often difficult for employees to articulate. Culture can be inferred in how work gets accomplished. Brian, for instance, must complete several forms to submit an idea for prototype investigation, and then the forms must be approved by both Samantha and Samantha’s boss, Bill. He also must track a specific budget for the project and report project status weekly on a prescribed template.
Ricardo used to work with Brian and Samantha. But, he liked to wear jeans to work and preferred trying things out to see if there was a potential in a solution before delving deeper into the problem. Ricardo hated bureaucracy and felt like filling out forms was a waste of time that he could otherwise dedicate to testing features and functions for the new product. He like to talk to customers to understand their real need for the product. Ricardo’s personality did not match the company culture and he eventually found a job at another company with a different set of values and norms, and where he could maximize his talents in technical product development.
Samantha works hard to ensure her team members all get a chance to contribute. She was sorry to see Ricardo go but understood his personal and professional growth needs. Samantha communicates with her team regularly, either in person or by phone for the team members that are in different geographical locations. She is quick to publicly name someone who has made a significant contribution to the project and she uses the word “Thanks” a lot.
Because many of her teammates are part of dual-career families, Samantha is understanding about time off for school events. Honestly, she doesn’t care if someone works 8 to 5 or 5 to 8 as long as they get their work done and they are actively involved in accomplishing the team goals to deliver the best new product possible.
Samantha has created a certain climate for her team. Climate is defined as “a set of properties of a work environment, perceived directly or indirectly by employees, that has a significant impact on employee behavior.” Team climate includes elements of leadership, communication, trust, responsibility, recognition, and employee participation.
Truth be told, Brian doesn’t like wearing a tie, but he loves his work and he finds great opportunities to pursue his technical passions working for someone like Samantha. Daisy is co-worker of Brian’s. She has just transferred to the new product development (NPD) group from operations. She understands that forms and procedures are often required for audit tracking and to file patents on new inventions. While she’d prefer to be building a new prototype, Daisy acknowledges that the corporate culture and government regulations require forms and templates. She is really excited about working for Samantha in an open climate with a chance to have greater responsibility in product design. She wants to be recognized for her direct contributions to the team.
Culture vs. Climate
Most of us mistake team climate for organizational culture. As leaders, we strive to make changes in our style and in the work environment to positively influence employee behaviors. Leadership, responsibility, and trust are visible at the surface. Employees can quickly point out the positive and negative elements of their working environment – elements of the team climate.
Culture is not as readily identified because it is a set of organizational values, often rooted in long corporate histories, that lie under the surface of the working environment. Organizational culture defines how work gets done and is passed on informally through legends and stories. Corporate “heroes” are emulated as new employees adopt customs, patterns, and values of the organization. The culture drives the underlying work processes, relationships, and leadership styles of executive management.
Our confusion between culture and climate arises because, as leaders, we have the levers at our control to quickly change team climate. A new leader can bring fresh perspectives to a team. Yet, a new leader cannot fundamentally or rapidly change the intrinsic values and norms of a company. Even when the senior leadership undergoes a full-scale transformation (such as in an acquisition or buy-out), the corporate culture is slow to change – maybe even taking years to do so. Habits and customs of employees are the deeply ingrained fundamentals that determine the culture.
Brian, Samantha, Ricardo, and Daisy are all fictional characters. Yet, each of us can recognize a bit of ourselves and a bit of our fellow team members in their stories and behaviors. Our job as product development and engineering leaders is to manage the team climate for productivity and efficiency within the bounds and values of the greater organizational culture.
To learn more about teams and organizational structures to successfully launch new products, please join us in a self-study or other NPDP Workshop. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com or 281-280-8717. At Simple-PDH.com where we want to help you gain and maintain your professional certifications. You can study, learn, and earn – it’s simple!
A classic book on organizational structure is Structure in Fives: Designing Effective Organizations by Henry Mintzberg (affiliate link). I have a chapter on NPD teams in NPDP Certification Prep: A 24-Hour Study Guide and additional references at https://globalnpsolutions.com/services/npd-resources/.
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