How to Build Powerful Teams that Actually Transform Culture


It’s next to impossible to implement lasting, positive change in an organization if the culture doesn’t provide fertile ground for growth. So how do you go about building a healthy culture? Captain Bligh of the stricken HMS Bounty, tried a top down strategy when he declared: "The beatings will continue until morale improves." While leaders can point the ship in the right direction, they can’t change the culture by themselves. It takes powerful teams to make a positive culture.

The key to powerful teams is individual mindset

There is a problem with the popular strategy that says lasting change happens at the team level. The reality is that teams consist of individuals. And, individuals have the power to make or break a team…and an organization.

At the very core of why individuals do what they do is MINDSET — the foundational belief that determines how we view the world. In my book, Beyond Resilience: Trench-Tested Tools to Thrive Under Pressure, I describe four different mindsets based on the two dimensions of Power and Purpose. In response to the challenges that we face throughout the day, we all vacillate between these four mindsets:

  • The Victim’s Mindset (powerless/taker)
  • The Bystander’s Mindset (powerless/giver)
  • The Controller’s Mindset (powerful/taker)
  • The Thriver’s Mindset (powerful/giver).

The mindset that we choose determines the words that we ponder. The words that we ponder lead to the emotions that we experience. The emotions that we experience impact the actions we take. The actions that we take result in the fruit that we produce. The fruit that we produce directly impacts the team that we serve. The teams define the culture.

When individuals become aware of the four mindsets and make a conscious effort to spend more time working from The Thriver’s Mindset, it has a profound impact on the team. Team members with the Thriver’s Mindset approach work with the core belief that they have the power to make a difference and the desire to put others first. As empowered givers, they look for the opportunity to make others successful and they don’t care who gets the credit.

While it is true that teams are essential to implementing change, there are three reasons that we need to look deeper than the team:

  1. Individual mindset defines team resilience.
  2. Individual mindset drives team engagement.
  3. Individual mindset determines team culture.

Individual mindset defines team resilience

The bonds between individual members establish the strength and resilience of a team. These invisible bonds are very similar to the bonds that cause atoms to “stick together” and form molecules. Atoms are bound together by an interaction between the negatively charged electrons that form the outer sphere of one atom and the positively charged protons at the center of the other atom. The bonds between atoms happen between the surface of one and the surface of the other. The bond forms between the positively charged particles in the core of one atom to the negatively charged particles on the surface of the other. Without the positive core, there is no bond. The negative electrons on the surface do not stick to each other. When individuals approach their role on their team with a mindset that says “I have the power to make a difference, and I don’t care who gets the credit,” they look for opportunities to serve and support each other. Those types of bonds are tough to break and make the team very resilient to change.

Individual mindset drives team engagement

When an individual shows up for their team with a conviction to put others first and the belief that they can make a difference, they are compelled to be engaged. They roll up their sleeves, become invested, and take responsibility. They know that their work matters and when results are less than optimal they don’t disengage and blame others. They take ownership to press on and until they figure out a solution that works.

Individual mindset determines team culture

Once individual team members adopt the Thriver’s Mindset, they commit to doing whatever it takes to make their team members successful. Then, with the bonds between team members strengthened, their team adopts a culture of Thriving (empowered giving), and they consider the teams around them. They look for opportunities to do whatever they can to make the other teams into heroes (and they don’t care who gets the credit).

Mindset is the force that builds teams and transforms culture

Ponder the example of molecular bonds that I mentioned earlier. We can’t see the bonds between atoms. If the bonds between atoms were not strong, the world we know would not exist. But, all the talking in the world won’t bring the molecules together. It starts at the invisible submicroscopic level. In the same way, the power of individual mindsets strengthens the bond between team members as they put the other first: the solid positive core of one member reaching out to the other and the reciprocal response in return.

These are the most challenging times that healthcare has ever seen. If we are going to shape the future into something we can be proud of, it will begin when as more and more of us make the individual choice to be an empowered giver. Choose the Thriver’s Mindset.