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Why Your Team Should Consider Culture Before Strategy

By: Jessica Reese O’Rourke, Brown & Caldwell

What if I told you that culture eats strategy for breakfast? That’s right, it does not matter if you are in the C-Suite implementing company-wide strategy or a marketer developing a plan of action to win a proposal, culture can quickly transform the intentions of any leader.

Often ambiguously used, culture brings that living, breathing piece to an organization’s identity. By definition, culture is the “underlying, unspoken, and often unquestioned norms, values, and customs within an organization,” (Jex et al.).

Most of us recognize our company’s culture through the context of our teams and the people we must interact with to get the job done. This microcosm of culture we participate in on a daily basis is also called an organization’s climate, or the experienced manifestation of a culture, (Jex et al.). According to a Harvard Business Review study, employees now spend more than 50 percent of their time in collaborative activities. Research also shows that teams innovate and discover solutions at an accelerated rate, and more importantly, achieve better results and see higher job satisfaction, (Duhigg). By understanding how to assess and align culture and climate to strategy, a company can harness culture’s power and dynamics to build more accountable employees and teams that positively affect the bottom line.

So, what type of culture can push strategy forward within a team? Teams are just another word for a group of people, but does it matter which people are on a team? For instance, a proposal team is made up of many different players, including a project manager, marketer, graphic designer, technical writers, editors, pricing support, subcontractors, and many others depending on the proposal. Yet, not every proposal team is efficient or successful, and the obvious reason links to the majority of proposals having different people involved. However, culture tells us that who is on the team doesn’t matter, but rather it’s the underlying attitudes and norms that are encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected in a group.

A company that recently set out to understand what created the most productive and effective team is Google. The primary indicator the tech giant found when it came to team success was psychological safety, described as “an individual’s perception of the consequence of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive,” (Duhigg). For an efficiency- and data-driven company like Google, the research emphasized a much more difficult metric to measure and assess: the human factor.

In Google’s research, other key traits that led to team success also surfaced, including dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact, (Re:Work). Along with psychological safety, fostering these dynamics in a team setting is the next step to creating that ideal culture, but it is not a simple one. Focusing first on establishing these qualities before developing a company strategy relies on the commitment to enforce a system of policies, practices, and procedures, as well as the agency to support and reward aligned behaviors that eventually become the expectation in a work setting, (Jex et al.).

In the A/E/C industry, we can learn from Google’s research. We count on our teams to be made up of experts, and we can develop the most streamlined and advanced strategies to beat the competition. But remember our strategy is only as strong as our culture.  


Duhigg, Charles. “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team.” The New York Times, 25 Feb. 2016.,

Jex, Steve, et al. Employee Stress and Well-Being. 2014. Oxford Handbooks Online, 2014.

Cheng, J. Yo-Jud, et al. “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture.” Harvard Business Review, Jan. 2018, pp. 46–52.

Re:Work. Google. Accessed 20 Apr. 2019.

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