Whenever we talk about culture, it’s almost always in macro economic terms…regions, nations, industries, functional areas all seem to be easily (if often wrongly!) defined by specific and identifiable cultural traits. These traits enable us to ascribe labels to groups of people which may be relevant in terms of description but in terms of achieving any kind of change add to the confusion rather reduce it.
In my opinion, the reality is quite different…and the approach to achieving change needs to reflect this.
- The actual cultural dimension that matters to an individual is that of his / her immediate surroundings…whatever the natural team size of the organisation might be. No matter how centralised or controlled the organisation might be, the way that work is conducted is determined by the first layer of leadership.
- This first layer of leadership is not ‘perma frost’ as it has been defined in the past but rather a much more flexible material…it consists of every possible version of leader (from the young, highly motivated, inexperienced but enthusiastic person who may take a positive view of corporate culture and attempt to incorporate this, to the older more experienced and battle hardened individual who’s interest lies in mentoring and developing the next group of leaders…and all points inbetween!)
- Where there is interaction with other teams, much of what I’ve experienced in post merger integration around cultural difference, is also experienced in this micro world. There is a period of reflection about how the two teams may work together, what behavioural norms are and are not acceptable, and what roles each group will take. Much of the storming, forming, norming concept relates to this cultural challenge.
Now I don’t have a problem with taking a macro perspective in looking for cultural traits which may run across an organisation…we all have to start somewhere. However, ending the analysis there is a mistake. Looking for differences at the team level, working with the leader of that team to identify and potentially address them, building consensus across teams where interaction and collaboration through micro cultural diagnostics and tracking the change is a critical first step in the process.
As we work in organisations which are increasingly disparate in terms of location, employee background (socio-economic, educational, religious etc), we need to recognise that the thing that binds us together is our daily experience with each other…improving that daily experience is the key to improving employee engagement and ultimately unlocking innovation.