by Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Guzman
U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa Command First Sergeant
Setting and sustaining a positive organizational culture is often associated with organizational leaders, business owners and project champions. A multitude of articles, books and studies exist on the importance and primary responsibility of leaders to cultivate a successful culture within their organization.
“Sir, nobody wants to play for the Bad News Bears.”
This can lead to flawed expectations for “leadership” or “upper management” to be the sole generator of answers for solving issues such as process inefficiencies and low morale. It is known as the “ask the person in charge, I just work here” approach. I fell victim to this methodology during my time as an Airman and as a young, junior non-commissioned officer.
I remember hearing about issues from my immediate leadership and about dissatisfaction with our assigned leader’s solutions. Oddly enough, I don’t recall hearing or seeing a proposed course of action or potential alternate solution. “Ask the person in charge” was standard protocol that made working in these sections and organizations dreadful.
According to organizational leadership consultant Michael D. Watkins, “organizational culture functions much like the human immune system in preventing viruses and bacteria from taking hold and damaging the body.”
Good organizational culture keeps our teams and organizations healthy and functioning properly. Bad or toxic organizational culture can amount to poor performance, member dissatisfaction and eventual mission failure.
Don’t get me wrong, leaders are principally accountable with an inherent responsibility to provide and uphold an organization’s vision, standards, and effective communication. It is important to deliver resources and personnel development required to ultimately set the team up for success.
But, team members are just as critical in contributing when it comes to influencing culture and making their organization or team successful. As I look back at my 22-year career, I recall multiple examples where “we” the young airmen, section, and flight leads took charge of resources within our span of influence to handle issues affecting us.
Arriving to a supposedly broken section as a young NCO and team member in a large flight, I remember asking myself what can I, and more importantly “we,” do to get this team on track. After much reflection, I realized “we” were faced with two simple options, continue to look up and point the finger, or go after solutions by leveraging the resources available. In essence, we needed to own it.
After adopting this ownership approach, we noticed a change in our team’s culture and performance. Growing a positive organizational culture and shaping the organization into what we want it to be required an all-in effort. In three months, problems festering for years were finally resolved. And, we slowly figured out that you don’t have to be a leader to do leader things. For young leaders in training, ask yourself the following:
Are “we” holding ourselves accountable by making it a priority to be mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, spiritually fit and ready?
Tending to these areas needs to be a crucial part of our daily routine in order to be better family members, Airmen, friends, and wingmen.
Are “we” looking to develop ourselves, our family members and our peers to be better people and professionals?
Specifically, “we” need to grow ourselves by making a habitual deliberate effort to feed our brains by reading, listening to podcasts, meditating, then sharing what we learn with our families and peers.
Are “we” taking the time to be true wingmen?
“We” should be looking out for each other’s welfare on a personal, as well as professional, level.
Are “we” pushing the envelope when it comes to being innovative?
“We” regularly need to further refine the programs and procedures we use by refusing to settle for the status quo.
Are “we” holding the line with regard to workplace conduct and discipline? It is important to step up and in when we witness something that is illegal, unethical or immoral.
Do “we” take time to celebrate each other’s personal and professional accomplishments?
This means we should be ten times as happy for our teammates’ accomplishments as we would be for our own. We need to make it a point to show up and show out when the opportunity to recognize and support our team presents itself.
When challenges arise do “we” look for “leadership” or “upper management” to come and solve our problems?
We need to look to the team mates to our left and right and craft a solution with the resources we have available, and up-channel what we have done to attempt and resolve the situation at hand.
I often told my previous squadron commander and mentor “Sir, nobody wants to play for the Bad News Bears.” Nobody wants to be a part of a dysfunctional, laughing stock outfit. By relentlessly tackling the questions outlined, “we” can get, and keep an organization’s culture in great shape. Our goal should never be to be part of something that is just good enough, but to be a part of something great! Ultimately, “we” leaders and team members have to be willing to put in the time and effort to cultivate and maintain an organizational culture “we” are proud of. We need to shape our team, the team we want — a winner!