Org Culture Part 1

Twenty-five years ago, when I began my work with leaders and teams in organizations; if, in the context of a conversation, people used the word ‘culture,’ they were almost always talking about other nations, other peoples, in other places. Most left conversations about ‘culture’ to anthropologists, because that was, and still is, a major part of their field of study.

Being an anthropologist by academic training, I would always ask leaders to describe their ‘culture’ to me.  Mostly I was met with blank stares.  “What do you mean?” they would ask. “Do we have a culture?”  Internally, I would chuckle.  “Of course your organization has a culture.”  Externally, I knew better and asked questions so that, together, we would learn about that leader’s organizational culture.  I would ask about the norms of the organization and about the values that govern them.  I wanted to know about the ways that decisions are made; the ways that they choose their clients; the ways that they hold conversations to get to results.  Mostly, I wanted to understand what motivated the direction of their organization so that I could understand their ‘culture’ of work and of doing business.

Now, twenty-five years later, I still do the same.

I believe that leaders in any organization need to understand the culture that drives the ways people work together: the ways that decisions are being made; the shared beliefs that ‘dictate’ “appropriate” behaviors; and the patterns of communication that characterize any group that works together no matter what size. It is the culture of common understanding and commitment that ultimately is the foundation for the mission of any organization.

Culture is what binds us together as people. Culture is the way of life/work of a group of people, their belief system, their values, the symbols that they take on and make their own.

  • I wonder if you can describe your team’s culture?  Your organization’s norms and values and beliefs?
  • Are you aligned with your organization’s values?
  • What makes it important for leaders to understand their organizational culture?
  • What’s the impact of knowing or not knowing what motivates the behaviors and decisions of your organization’s leadership?