A quick internet search on “team culture” renders 885M results, so no wonder it’s confusing to understand what’s core and what’s frill. Distinctions: core is how people think and feel about themselves and others, which inform their behavior and actions. Frill is everything else.

The most basic elements of a healthy and effective team culture include:

  1. Honesty
  2. Judgement-free awareness
  3. Responsibility for one’s thoughts, feelings and behavior
  4. Opportunities to grow
  5. Nurturance



The easiest way to nurture team honesty is to create a judgement-free, repercussion-free space with people who listen and can handle everyone’s version of the truth.

It sounds easy, but here are some blocks to overcome:

  • Carrots and sticks: most people fear the sticks, precluding them from being honest because in many cases, nobody wants to hear the truth.A team must be able to handle each person’s version of the truth to have an honest culture.
  • Differing priorities of values: what if some team members value honesty over privacy and others value privacy over honesty? When these values are challenged, people will behave differently — all while everyone values honesty.A team must be able to have the same priority list when it comes to honesty.
  • Undeveloped emotional intelligence: if people make emotional (vs fact-based) reactive decisions when stressed, this creates fear and uncertainty that undermines honesty. A team must nurture individual and collective emotional intelligence to be able to handle honest discussions.

Judgement-free Awareness

Judgements are the most deleterious aspect of today’s teams.With judgements, all undesired outcomes are possible such as blame, unfair criticisms, rejection, anxiety and every other fear-driven behavior. In addition, judgements block the ability to see what’s happening in the present, as judgements are based on past conclusions that are used in the present.

Judgement-free awareness is the ability to look, listen and/or sense a person or situation with a clean slate.

Here are some blocks to overcome:

  • People aren’t aware that they’re judgmental: a team that allows each team member to notice judgements (in themselves and others) and replace them with judgement-free awareness is resilient and effective.
  • People judge others to avoid taking responsibility for themselves: a team that encourages everyone to take responsibility for themselves is key.

Responsibility for one’s thoughts, feelings and behavior

When people don’t take responsibility for their thoughts, feelings and behavior, blame comes into play. Blame destroys the ability to focus on the real problems, shifting everyone’s focus to real or imagined symptoms.

For example:



“I’m angry because Tess never says ‘hello’ when she comes in” (and I assume it means that she doesn’t respect me)

“I’m angry because I assume thatTess doesn’t respect me just because she doesn’t say ‘hello’ when she comes in”

“Our project failed because Manish made a mistake with the business case” (and this means that it’s his fault)

“Our project failed because we didn’t catch mistakes in the business case. How can we prevent errors in the future?”


When each team member takes responsibility for his/her thoughts, feelings and actions, a positive team culture can flourish.

Growth Opportunities

All people naturally want to grow — it’s one of the basic human needs. As a result, team cultures that offer growth opportunities create a fun and engagement work environment that brings out people’s best.

These are common blocks to overcome:

  • Work environments that don’t have growth opportunities such as promotions.A team must have mobility, in any shape or form, to attract and retain top talent.
  • Work environments that have lots of growth opportunities that bore people. For example, how many apps might a coder want to create? At one point, more is not better, rather new and interesting is better. A team must find ways to create growth opportunities that engage people.

Nurture Team Cultures Forever

It’s common to think of a great team culture as a destination.Yet, when dealing with people, it’s important to continually nurture the environment to avoid slipping back into old behavior that is likely to arise in stress situations.

A positive team culture is a journey to be nurtured perpetually.

You can connect with Eleni on Twitter @elenipallas

Eleni Pallas has global experience working in strategy consulting, developmental banking and mobile communications. Among other things, she spent most of her first career in strategy and bus dev, leading partnership and acquisition projects in the BRICs. Now, she curates provocative spaces where leaders design and humanize the emerging future. She’s writing the book on human-centric leading, a paradigm that revolutionizes organizations and societies from the inside out.

1 Comment

  • Perri

    Hi Eleni, I found your article via This subject is dear to my heart because the cultural environment whether in business, family, institution, global…in any “group”… is enhanced and affected for better or worse by the factors (or lack of) that you have highlighted. I want to read your upcoming book.
    I will share this article with my students and readers of my own book just about to be published this month, “Jumpstart Your Life! Making Friends and Peace With Your Life Business.”
    BTW, my daughter’s name is Eleni…named after “Eleni” from the book and movie, Eleni.
    Thank you for the most important work and energy you put out into the world!

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