How To Build A Team Culture

David Burkus
5 min readAug 1, 2022

Culture is a huge factor in the success or failure of a team. There are cultures so focused on performance and talent that they leave everyone drained. And then there are ones that build a team culture where individual members, no matter how talented, put the needs of the team over their needs and, as a result, everyone wins.

But there’s a lot we misunderstand about culture. When you hear many people describe their culture, they point to easily observable elements like symbols, slogans, dress code, foosball tables, or free food. But going all the way back to Edgar Schein’s initial research on culture, we find that those observable elements don’t matter as much as we think. It’s what’s below the surface that matters.

Culture on a team isn’t anything you can see or hear; it’s what those observable things point to that matters.

The foundational elements of culture are values and beliefs, and observable elements like rituals, rallying cries, and symbols flow from there.

In this article, we’ll outline how to build a team culture starting below the surface with what matters and build upon that foundation.


The foundational element of a team culture is its set of values. These are the things your team actually values and wouldn’t comprise on. These are the nonnegotiables. While many companies use the term “core values,” research on teams suggests that “sacred values” may be the more appropriate term for the principles or standards of behavior that actually bonds teams together. Sacred values are those things the team will give anything to protect, and shared belief in their importance bonds them.

To find those on your team, ask questions about those trade-offs they would and would never make. The goal is to find those values the team refuses to sacrifice in pursuit of productivity. Those are the sacred values of the team and a foundation strong enough to build upon.


The second element of a team culture is its set of beliefs. These are the set of ways the team sees the world. For example, Some…

David Burkus

Author of BEST TEAM EVER | Keynote Speaker | Organizational Psychologist | Thinkers50 Ranked Thought Leader |