The culture and performance results of a team are driven by the focus and communication of its people.

That culture can range from thriving to diving.

Below, I unpack each level of my ‘People Drive Performance’ model. 

I encourage you to reflect honestly on where you, your team and organisation sit now, and where you would like to be.


In a diving culture, it’s every man and woman for themselves. 

Communication is defensive and often aggressive, and the result is people finger pointing, blaming others, and justifying their behaviour.

There’s a real ‘gotcha’ mentality, with a focus on being right and no personal responsibility.

People are scared to speak up because if they do, they will get shot down, and this lack of psychological safety means new ideas and innovations are not put forward.

A diving culture costs an organisation dearly as staff turnover, sick leave and HR complaints are high, while engagement and productivity are low.


This is where many teams and organisations have found themselves in 2020 under the pressure and uncertainty of COVID-19.

In a surviving culture, the focus is on preservation. People are just holding on and trying to stay afloat.

Communication is inconsistent – you never know what you’re going to get. Emotions and behaviours fluctuate wildly, and difficult conversations are put in the ‘too hard’ basket and often avoided – which only makes problems grow. 

The result is a team that’s floundering and performance is suffering.

A dip into a surviving culture in the short term under extreme stress is something you can bounce back from, but stay there too long and the chances of dropping into a diving culture increase.


In a striving culture, things are looking up. People are focussed on the tasks they must do and doing them right. There’s a pragmatic ‘let’s get the job done’ approach.

Communication is functional and as needed. People have enough information to do their tasks well, feedback is given, and performance conversations are had. 

Unfortunately, behavioural issues are often overlooked if someone is getting the results they need.

The result is a working team – often with a good manager, rather than a leader at the helm. 

People are striving to do good work and their performance is described as solid and satisfactory but not outstanding. 

For some, this is where they are happy for their teams and organisations to be. And that’s ok.
But if you want to take that next step up, there’s something that’s missing – the people bit.


In a thriving culture, driven by a true leader, the focus is on getting the best out of people by empowering, motivating and developing them.

There is an individual and collective desire for growth, and people feel valued for who they are, not just what they do. 

Communication is clear, curious and kind. People know where they stand, robust conversations are had in a respectful way, new ideas are explored and discussed, feedback is open and honest, and the focus is on getting the best outcome rather than being right.

Emotional intelligence and personal responsibility are high, different opinions are encouraged, and people at all levels hold themselves and each other to account. 

The result is a high performing team that delivers high value to an organisation.

So, where does your team sit? 

The good news is, no matter which level your team is at now, by improving the way people communicate, you’ll improve your culture and results.


Leah Mether helps people get out of their own way with the development of soft skills (which are really hard). She is a speaker, trainer, facilitator, mentor and author of the book Soft is the New Hard: How to Communicate Effectively Under Pressure.