Org Culture Part 2

I look at ‘culture’ as our underlying reasons for doing things, and I view ‘social’ expression as our conventional ways of doing things — the behaviors that are observable and express the values and norms that underlie action.  Hence, the culture of an organization is revealed through the behaviors and conversations that occur within that organization.

Mostly, the ‘culture’ of an organization “just happens.”  A group of people get together to create something and they begin working on that ‘something.’  The norms and values that inform beliefs and the rules that establish and regulate behavior are, largely, invisible and unremarked.

Sometimes, when new programs or organizations form, the individuals involved take the time to build the foundation of their organization and have conversations about their values, their vision and their mission; as well as their guidelines for working together.  In doing so, they are creating a common ground for all who participate.  They are weaving a story for their ‘reason for being’ based upon their shared values and vision.  The long-term impact of doing this early, conscious work, is cultural resonance – clarity of intention, clarity of expectations, and clarity of doing the work.

Without doing the work of creating a shared story, and shared meanings, the potential for conflict and misunderstandings is high. A sense of discomfort, discord, disharmony is too often experienced by people, especially during times of stress, transition, and change.  This happens as a result of not having something to grasp onto when unexpected and unexplained change occurs.  Breakdowns in communication, and misunderstanding of expectations, occur regularly, leading people to ask questions such as, “Why am I here?”  “What impact am I making and for whom?”

I wonder as you read this:

  • what questions do you have about your own workplace? 
  • What conversations do feel are missing? 
  • What conversations are you having that lead to a stronger sense of belonging?
  • How would you transform a mood of dissonance in your organizations and your teams to a mood of resonance?

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?