By Jamie Barnes

Your company’s culture is built on human behaviors. The actions that are rewarded are the ones that get reinforced then spread like model behavior throughout your organization. So if you’re not rewarding behaviors that help people work together better, you might be enforcing a suboptimal culture.

The first step to building an effective communication strategy is to define the audiences and barriers to engagement. It doesn’t matter if the client is investing in an equity and inclusion strategy or implementing a massive system change – we need to uncover why employees may not buy in to your initiative.

This discovery process exposes all the peccadillos swept under the rug. Bias, distrust, fear of change, a cya (cover your a**) or territorial approach to collaboration, passive-aggressive communication styles, the list goes on. These are all normal human qualities but left unaddressed, can lead to a less-effective, if not toxic, culture.

Most people are good people. They want to do what’s best for the company or the success of their team. But even the kindest person will defer to shady behavior when they’re functioning from a place of self-preservation. Many employees are hungry for a more collaborative and empathetic workplace. They want to bring their best selves to work every day, learn, grow and contribute. However, many cultures nurture the dog who eats the other dogs.

Tackling your organization’s culture isn’t the easiest or fastest undertaking but the results are far-reaching. When leaders make efforts to foster collaborative relationships the byproducts are teamwork, innovation, productivity, career satisfaction, and ultimately a more optimal workplace.

This brings me to the most valuable list of 2019. Francesca Gino, Professor at Harvard Business School, wrote this HBR article, Cracking the Code of Sustained Collaboration – Six new tools for training people to work together better.

The article is written under the headline of collaboration, but I believe Gino’s recommendations are the keys that unlock a healthy workplace culture. See the full article for more context.

This list provides the keys that will unlock a better workplace.

It doesn’t matter if your organization is tackling a new revenue-related BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) or addressing trust issues between the corporate office and the factory floor. A majority of engagement issues can be solved when you equip your folks – from the executive offices to the front lines – to work together better.

Teach people to listen, not talk. Ask expansive questions. Focus on the listener, not yourself. Critique your own tendencies. Become comfortable with silence.

Train people to practice empathy. Rephrase questions to eliminate judgment. Listen for what’s not being said.

Make people more comfortable with feedback. Discuss the aversion to feedback openly. Give feedback that is direct, specific, and applicable. Give feedback on feedback. Reply to colleagues’ ideas with the sketch comedy approach of “Yes, and…”

Teach people to lead and follow. Your self-perception is inflated. Learn to delegate (give up control).

Speak with clarity. Be specific, not abstract.

Train people to have win-win interactions. Are you peeling the orange for juice or a muffin recipe? (important context in the full article)


Jamie Barnes is a consulting partner with Workforce Communication. With a focus on change management communications, her approach is rooted in proven practices. She has worked in global firms and creative agencies, and she studied behavior change with behavioral scientist BJ Fogg PhD, the neuroscience of learning with the NeuroLeadership Institute, and change management with Prosci. Jamie studied organizational communications at the University of Chicago and has a BA in social science from National Louis University.