I came across an article recently claiming that organisational culture not only eats strategy for breakfast – but lunch and dinner too. And couldn’t agree more. Developing an appropriate culture within an organisation helps teams to thrive and to reach and exceed their strategic goals.
But what exactly is organisational culture?
At its core, organisational culture can be defined as ‘a system of shared assumptions, values and beliefs, which governs how people behave in organisations’. (1)
It is often viewed as a soft concept, something vague, woolly and intangible. In practice though, the opposite is usually true. Culture is shaped by the hard disciplines of an organisation’s structure, decision-making processes, talent management systems, metrics and incentives.
Whether a company explicitly defines it or not, we cannot deny that culture exists. Some people describe it as an attitude that hangs in the air, influencing how work gets done or who fits in and who doesn’t. It can affect the success or failure of a project and determine the overall mood of a company.
In my experience, culture frequently
comes into sharp focus during
periods of organisational change.
In my experience, culture frequently comes into sharp focus during periods of organisational change. As a company grows and redefines its strategic objectives, the existing culture can become obsolete, even destructive, hindering progress instead of supporting it.
Sometimes a team might need to move forward from a culture of fear to one of fortitude. At other times, the siloed structure of a company might need to be addressed, so that it can transform and foster a culture of collaboration or enhanced teamwork.
Over the years, I have worked with many organisations with a variety of needs, helping them to navigate what can be tricky territory.
So, how do you instil a winning culture within a team or organisation?
First up, it’s not an easy process. Instilling a winning culture takes time and a significant amount of effort. It requires changing how people think about a company and its brand. More difficult still, it demands a willingness to change habitual behaviours; behaviours that in some cases have been ingrained for many years. For any real culture change to occur, these mindsets must be aligned with future direction.
When supporting teams to build a better culture, I regularly reference Johnson & Scholes and Dr Sheila Margolis.
Dr Margolis has been at the forefront of this field for many years. Her belief is that ‘Core Culture’ is made up of ‘the vital Purpose, the distinctive and enduring Philosophy and the strategic and universal Priorities’(2) of a company. Together, these form the reasons why an organisation is in business in the first place. They also determine how that organisation conducts itself. Dr Margolis’s three Ps offer a very practical tool in assessing the existing culture of an organisation and in defining a new one for future growth.
Similarly, ‘The Cultural Web’ (devised by Johnson & Scholes) provides an effective framework to analyse organisational culture. Using the categories of Stories, Symbols, Power Structures, Organisational Structures, Control Systems and Routines & Rituals, we can take stock of where a team is currently. Mapping this picture against an organisation’s high-level strategic plan, we can then visualise where a team wishes to be in the medium to long term. This framework quickly highlights any culture gaps and allows the team to focus on what actions need to be taken.
In essence, devising a winning team culture is concerned with three key questions:
Where is the team headed strategically?
What is its collective ambition?
And, fundamentally, is the team willing to make changes in order to reach these important goals?
To achieve success, the answers to the first two questions should be clear, unified and considered. The answer to the third question must be a resounding, ‘Yes’.
1. John McLaughlin, What is Organizational Culture – Definition & Characteristics, www.study.com
2. Sheila Margolis, The Basics of Core Culture, www.sheilamargolis.com
What Motivates You?
Motivation and What It Means for Career Fulfilment
Several years ago, one of my great mentors made a very simple suggestion. He advised me to ask each member of my team one question, ‘What motivates you?’
At the time, I was in charge of 20 direct reports, juggling urgent deadlines and the general demands of dynamic team management. I was quite taken aback at his recommendation. Surely I didn’t have time to conduct such a seemingly arbitrary exercise when there was so much real work to be done?