Organizational Culture

Another important aspect of Organizational Context is culture. That evil entity that is causing all sort of problems in organizations nowadays 🙂

Organizational culture can be defined as “the way we do things around here”, but this definition is too simple to convey the complexity of the subject. Let’s see what the subject matter experts say about it.

As Schein (1990) says, culture is the ‘the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, and that have worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.’

Merrian-Webster definition of culture: “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.”

Should I worry about it?

Well, there are as many studies and books that establish a direct causality between organizational culture and performance as there are which say the contrary.

For the sake of this work, let´s say that organizational culture is something intangible that exists, it is everywhere an influences everything, but you cannot change it in a economically meaningful period of time. You should take it into account, but don´t worry too much about it, unless you are part of an organizational change initiative or you are working with C-level executive “team”.

Jason Little, in his book “Lean Change Management”, says the following:

There is a strong bias with many Agile practitioners about the need for a culture and mindset change with respect to Agile. I see the same stance from people in the business community when they talk about innovation. I’m sure you’ve seen many posts and forum discussions about how culture will eat your strategy for breakfast.
This makes perfect sense for people who have their biases confirmed by these statements. For others though, changing culture and mindsets starts with more well defined processes, because they believe better processes will help them. Regardless of what your point of view is, there are tools for measuring and managing culture. You have to decide if you want to make a conscious attempt to change the organization’s culture, which determines whether or not to use a culture assessment tool. If you try an approach that isn’t compatible with your culture, you could cause more harm than good, or worse, ruin your credibility as a change agent.

Edgar Schein underscores the fact that “organizations will not successfully change culture if they begin with that specific idea in mind. The starting point should always be the business issues that the organization faces.” Additionally he suggests that you do not begin with the idea that the existing culture is somehow totally bad. He urges leaders to always begin with the premise that an organization’s culture is a source of strength. Some of the cultural habits may seem dysfunctional but it is more viable to build on the existing cultural strengths rather than to focus on changing those elements that may be considered weaknesses.

So, what?

You can use a cultural assessment tool at a team level and at an organizational level. This will provide you with a valuable perspective for further conversations and will help you in identifying main roadblocks to change, and which actions and experiments are aligned with culture and which aren´t.

There is not right or wrong culture, but there are cultural traits that will impact your team either positively or negatively, or traits that will facilitate or complicate your interventions, actions and experiments as leader or coach.

You can use any of the following cultural assessment tools:

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