We are in an odd time when it comes to discussing work culture. Like being in the eye of a hurricane, we are stuck between the initial panicky onslaught of COVID: “Go work from home and we’ll figure it out,” and looking toward the future: “Okay, we have to figure out what we do next.” This moment is as calm as it’s going to get for a while, so we’d best do some assessing of where we are and what we want our culture to be going forward.

Really understanding the way you and your team works is not simple. One of my favorite quotes about work culture is, “I don’t know who first discovered water, but we know it wasn’t a fish.” I love that, even if it’s hard to quote Marshall McLuhan without sounding pretentious. The point is, we are often the last to recognize our surroundings because we are used to them and don’t examine them very carefully or objectively.

Your organization can spend a lot of time and money on consultants to conduct culture analysis, but there’s a simpler, faster way.

Define which culture you are trying to analyze

Kevin Eikenberry and I have been doing a lot of thinking about this in preparation for our upcominig book, The Long-Distance Team- Designing Your Team for the Modern Workplace.

All organizations have both a macro-culture (How does the whole organization operate?) and a micro-culture, which forms at the team level. That’s the water most of us are blindly swimming in. 

Start small and expand your scope

It’s certainly easier to start small, so think about the culture of your immediate team (whether you’re the titular leader or just another fish).

  • Think about how your team works day in and day out. What’s the culture of your team?
  • Take a pen and paper and set an alarm for ten minutes.
  • As quickly as you can, jot down all the words and phrases that come to mind. Some will be positive, some may be negative. Just get them down on paper. Brain dump.
  • Some words may be both positive and negative. “Slow and Methodical” may be both a positive trait and your biggest frustration. Just get all those words down on paper.
  • When time is up, go through and roughly sort the traits of your team by order of importance.  You can also sort positive and negative if you wish.

What you learn may surprise you, even if it shouldn’t. For example, “everyone gets along,” sounds like a positive trait. So does “We always aim for the best answer, not the one everyone can agree to.” In the real world, though, it is difficult for both things to be equally true. Your culture may be very conflict-averse, in which case the “best answer” may be the one most people can agree with after all. If you really focus on the objectively best solution, some team members may not buy in, or at least show resistance at first. Some conflict will be inevitable. Neither situation is good or bad, but they are very different team cultures.

On hybrid teams, you may find that people in one situation (say those in the office) have a very different view of things than those out in the provinces.

Don’t be afraid of the results

This is not as simple an exercise as it seems. You may find paradoxes that aren’t easy to address, but it will give you a snapshot of what your team culture is, from your perspective.

If you really feel like stirring up trouble, ask every member of your team to do the same thing and compare notes. Does the team view its culture the way you do? One person’s “healthy competition,” is another person’s “dog-eat-dog environment.” ONLY DO THIS if you’re prepared to have the conversations that will inevitably arise.

Of course, analyzing your culture is only the first step. After that comes the hard work of deciding what parts of that you wish to keep and reinforce, which you’d like to change, and how you do that.

One step at a time.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammateoffers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.

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