There’s an old saying that people support what they help create. The caveat is that we also oftentimes resist what is thrust upon us by someone else (especially if their intentions are unclear). After five straight days of work with two different clients this past week, I’m as committed as ever to the belief that employees and managers must together both define and own their work culture.

Using a relatively simple exercise called “Creating Our Code of Cooperation”, managers (including senior leaders) and associates took part in a discussion of what behaviors they wanted to be able to expect from each other. Simple things like saying “please” and “thank you” were mentioned. Taking the time to recognize the accomplishments of peers and holding themselves accountable for outcomes also made the list. Celebrating successes came up with both client groups.

Interestingly, what also made the lists were behaviors the participants agreed to refrain from. No gossiping, no yelling or use of profanity, and no blaming others when things didn’t go the right way. A culture, as it turns out, can be defined just as much by what we don’t do as well as what we do.

Looking on what the groups accomplished, the result was both physical and psychological. First, there was a formalized document (a Code of Cooperation) that each participant had a hand in creating and agreed to support. More importantly, there was the emotional transition from employee and/or manager to empowered cultural stakeholder. This was the cement that solidified the likelihood that the Codes will be honored and supported as both groups move forward.