Build an Exceptional Distributed Team Culture with Magic Moments

Build an Exceptional Distributed Team Culture with Magic Moments

by | Distributed Teams

Culture – maybe the most loaded buzzword in all of business. 

Is culture “what happens when no one is looking”?

Maybe “corporate culture doesn’t really exist”?

Or does “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

Whatever culture is, we all know it when we see it because it’s simply how things are done around here

There’s a 200-year tradition for how culture emerges among co-located teams. 

For distributed teams, a little more magic is needed to create and foster a healthy culture.

Because without it, you just can’t win. 

Keep reading to learn how magic moments can create and foster a winning culture for your distributed team. 

Magic Moments Create a Magical Culture

Magic Moments, also known as Culture Moments or “Aha” Moments, are those times when your team just gets it. They know what they’re doing, how to do it, and most importantly, why.

In today’s accelerating world, it takes a magical culture to win. 

When a leader brings intentionality to culture, amazing things happen:

  • Trust is built and more important grows, especially during hard times
  • Collaboration happens naturally
  • Turnover is reduced
  • Top talent is attracted
  • Projects are completed faster, cheaper, and better

We’ve talked before about creating clarity, empowering decision-making, and equipping your team with checklists. They’re ready to win – now let’s show you how to create a great culture with magic moments.

How to Foster a Healthy Culture

You can’t sit down and plan a culture. It’s what emerges from the mix of mission, people, projects, action, and context. As a leader, you create the conditions for success.

Tools for Fostering Culture:

  • Create Clarity of Mission
  • Create Magic Moments
  • Recruit, develop, and celebrate culture drivers
  • Use tools and events that work for everyone
  • Support healthy debate

Let’s explore each.

Create Clarity of Mission

We’ve explored this topic in a previous article on the role of clarity for distributed teams.

The point? By creating a clear path from what your business wants to achieve to what your team needs to do, you equip your team to make smart decisions, work better, and catch mistakes sooner. Everyone needs a north star.

Create Magic Moments

Magic Moments define culture for your team. 

They may be small, like when a team member makes a mistake and everyone rallies to support them instead of criticizing them. 

They may be big, like when you’re faced with a tough choice – do we keep the customer who treats our team horribly but represents 20% of our revenue?

They may be planned, like birthday or project celebrations

They may be unplanned, like sending gift cards to everyone for their favorite lunch spot, just because.

The outcome of a Magic Moment is trust. Your team learns to rely on each other and their team leader when performance and life are going well… or not.

By creating trust, you unlock everyone’s best work.

Recruit, develop, and celebrate culture drivers

Culture drivers are the people who make Magic Moments that foster culture. 

The team looks to them for expectations, reactions, and cultural norms. 

In smaller companies or early-stage startups, the founders are usually the main culture drivers. But they don’t have to be. A culture driver can be anyone on the team who makes Magic Moments happen.

As a team leader, it’s your job to recruit people who can make your culture better, to develop this magical ability in team members, and to celebrate culture drivers.

Sometimes, that can put you in a hard position. Maybe a culture driver took an action you don’t entirely agree with. Before criticizing them, ask yourself: “Did their action create more trust, even if it’s not how I would have done it?”

While it can take a long time to develop a great culture driver, it sometimes takes a single bad conversation to silence this miracle worker forever.

Use tools that work for everyone

It’s tempting to trust the tried-and-true Magic Moments: office birthday cakes, after-work happy hours at the local brewery, and team lunches on a quiet Friday.

But these tools exclude anyone not co-located. For permanently remote team members, this means they’ll never participate in your planned Magic Moment. You actually destroy trust by signaling to the offsite members that they’re not as important.

Challenge yourself to use a mix of tools for creating Magic Moments:

  • For team lunches: send a gift card in advance and set up a virtual call for everyone to join
  • For celebrating big events: make sure everyone can join the call
  • Use all-virtual events even if some people are in the same office to create a fair environment
  • For time-zone gaps: ask team members in very different time zones to record video messages that are shared on the main screen
  • Create shared spaces for people to share about their life – think #pets in Slack
  • Encourage your distributed team to create these moments themselves.

All of these tools are meant to create positive moments. But if everything in business was happy, it wouldn’t be so hard. 

One of the greatest abilities of the Magic Moment is when trust helps navigate conflict. 

Support healthy debate

The deadline is around the corner. The request from the C-suite is impossible. Two of your best performers have starkly different ideas. Maybe, someone made a really bad decision.

What use is a Magic Moment in these tense times?

Healthy debate can only exist when trust exists.

There’s a long list of conflict management tools for business. They are all based on one principle: create common ground.

We’ll assume you’ve created clarity for your team. Start by reminding everyone of the mission.

Next, invite people to express their perspectives. 

This doesn’t have to be at the same time or in the same format. Create a space for people to share their thoughts in a Google Document, a Slack channel, a poll (anonymous or not), on a whiteboard with sticky notes, and so on. The trick is to make the discussion about ideas and not people. And the loudest voice shouldn’t automatically win. 

Challenge your team to focus only on solving the problem. You can choose one solution, piece together the best solution from the options, or innovate a wholly new solution together.

If people become stuck, ask them to state their assumptions.

Repeat until you’ve solved the problem. Not everyone will love the solution, but you’ll have reinforced trust by giving everyone a voice, aligning everyone to problem-solving instead of turf-building, and encouraging healthy debate. 

In other words, everyone will once again be standing on common ground. 

What Happens When You Don’t Have Magic Moments

This is a trick statement: Magic Moments are always happening. Maybe you’re lucky and they’re happening in a way that serves your mission. But if you’re like most businesses, the Magic Moments created by the wrong culture drivers can do a lot of damage. 

Culture develops anyways… often unseen

This is a special problem for distributed teams. Behind screens, in different time zones, sometimes from different cultures – a lot of meaning can be lost.

Tools like Slack and email create opportunities for sub-cultures where people can gossip privately.

Culture always happens. It’s up to you to create the Magic Moments that point that culture the right direction. 

The Chilling Effect takes over

The Chilling Effect is when people don’t speak up because they’re afraid something bad will happen even if there’s no one making a threat. As social creatures, we’re naturally afraid of embarrassing ourselves in front of our peers. This means the Chilling Effect is always happening unless you stop it. 

How many times has a team member brought you the right answer only after the mistake is made? Or said they were concerned about a problem months ago but said nothing? Even once is too many. 

Magic Moments create trust. Trust makes it easier for people to speak up. 

People look for better opportunities

Your A+ team member sends you a Slack message: “Hey, can we chat?”

Ten minutes later and they resigned. You had no idea. After all, they’re on track for a promotion and a raise. The project is going well. You love them. 

What happened?

Great people want to work for great companies with great cultures. We spend the majority of our adult lives at work, after all. Why work someplace you don’t love, if you don’t have to?

Magic Moments won’t stop people from moving on. But by building trust, they’ll encourage your team members to bring concerns to you sooner. 

And when you fix the problems they bring to you, they’ll be much more willing to ignore that pesky recruiter’s 8th cold email with the offer to earn 20% more.

It’s that much harder to achieve your mission

Broken unseen culture + silent team members + surprise resignations = a team leader who simply cannot achieve their goals. 

You’ll spend more time recruiting and training. You’ll have to more quickly develop your less talented team members to fill gaps they’re not yet ready for. Your own manager will wonder why your turnover is so high.

And with the average cost of an excited employee being 6-12 months of their salary, your bottom line takes a big hit.

An unhealthy culture destroys your chances of success. 

Today we’ve explored the importance of making magic moments to foster a healthy distributed team culture. What comes next?

Join the Conversation

Extelli lives in the world we’re discussing here… and we would love for you to join the conversation.

Check out our post about this topic on LinkedIn.