Culture Action Teams (CATs) can play a crucial role in a company’s culture transformation. What is a CAT? It’s a small group (optimally not more than six to eight people) with cross-functional representatives that meet regularly to discuss, plan, and help implement culture change within an organization. CATs can range from department-specific to corporate-wide. Regardless of how narrow or broad their focus, CATs do three things:

  • Assess and create awareness about the current culture
  • Prioritize and implement actions for cultural change
  • Assess and learn from the results

CATs are the social drivers of your organization’s culture change. In my experience designing and facilitating CATs, I have come to view three factors as critical to their success: direct participation by senior leaders, getting the right people on the CAT, and establishing a productive operating rhythm.

Success Factor 1: Direct Participation by Senior Leadership Team

Members of your senior leadership team (SLT) need to form an ongoing partnership with your CAT(s). There are two problems to avoid:

  • Micromanaging and limiting a CAT. “Here’s a problem. Here’s the solution. Go implement it.” This tends to limit insight, creativity, and the development of new, healthy cultural practices.
  • Arms-length managing. “Here’s a broad problem. Go and figure it out.” Commissioning a team and then leaving them to steer their own course is most often counterproductive. Don’t mistake autonomy for empowerment. It can turn into impotence.

Some SLT members will be natural at striking the right balance. Others may need coaching—or even re-assignment. The CAT-Leader partnership includes both strategic and operational benefits. Strategically, the CAT becomes a partner in the decision-making process. Operationally, the CAT is the “feet on the ground” to help implement new approaches. In both cases, they provide the SLT with “ear to the ground” insights regarding broader employee response.

Success Factor 2: Getting the Right People on the CAT

Whether the CAT is made up of nominees, draftees, or outright volunteers, it is crucial that every member be an interested, respected problem-solver. They must be interested enough to invest energy above and beyond their normal job requirements. Choosing members who are already-respected influencers sends a signal about the importance of the team, and automatically extends the team’s reach into the organization. Finally, it’s essential to choose folks who are forward-thinking problem-solvers, not just problem identifiers so that attitudes remain positive and the focus stays on shaping the future, not just rehashing the past.

Success Factor 3: Productive Operating Rhythms

Creating productive operating rhythms involves more than simply scheduling the frequency of meetings, of course. It includes assigning ownership and support roles (which may change or need to be clarified over time); setting productive team norms (which need to be modeled and monitored by the team chair); and establishing the processes and tools to be used (problem identification, root cause analysis, brainstorming, prioritization, and finally, action plan formulation and execution). Culture is a key source of innovation, growth, and competitive advantage. Culture change is a team game. My hope is that this article will serve as a thought-starter for organizations considering culture change, and as a call for others to share their learned “best practices.”

by Levi Nieminen, Ph.D., Director of Research and Senior Consultant with Denison Consulting

This post is adapted from Levi’s article, “Culture Change is a Team Game: The 3 Success Factors of CATs (Culture Action Teams)”. Read the full article here.

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