ORGANISATIONAL CULTURE

"The culture of a group can now be defined as: A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be valid, and, therefore, is to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, to think and to feel, in relation to those problems."
             - Edgar H. Schein (Organisational Culture & Leadership, 2nd Edition, Jossey-Bass, 1992)


No matter who defines "culture" it's still a tricky concept to fully understand. Culture is both a set of 'rules' (norms, schema) and the system (dynamic process) for maintaining those norms, once established. We are at once a product of our cultures and the creators of the same. Cultural schema are also entirely situational, a fact those who believe 'organisational cultures are difficult to change' appear to overlook. In our workshops we regularly 'change the culture' of a room full of people within minutes. (Is this new culture externally transferable? Perhaps not, but the methods of transition are.)

It is important to realise that once a culture has formed, it goes through a period of "concretisation" and becomes embedded in the very fabric of the organisation. Policies and procedures are subtly altered to reflect the culture; structures are built and cultural artefacts form. Going into an organisation for the first time, you can almost 'taste' the culture. Cultures are resilient, self-referencing, self-maintaining systems whose key (psycho-social) nodes (people with power or influence) are the transmitters (infection vectors) and policers of the norms. Bosses in compliancy-based organisations are especially significant in this respect. David McClelland estimates managers "own" up to 80% of a culture and you get the behaviours you deserve!

Manipulation of the cultural schema directly is a difficult task, especially in aging cultures. However, we prefer to look at two major leverage points - the resonance effect of leaders and the creation of new cultural "containers". Because bosses, hire & fire, promote & reward, praise & blame, they hold considerable influencing power over employees in 'traditional hierarchical' organisations. If the leadership group create and then live new schema, the culture will shift towards these new behaviours. Couple this change with the creation of a new organisational context (a new "container" or "barrel" as per the Zimbardo experience) and cultures can readily be shifted (but not mandated). It is worth noting that because cultures are a social dynamic, whatever is "designed" will find its own expression in the 'masses'.

Adaptive Learning personnel are more than happy to discuss "cultural change programs" and our extensive experiences with these.

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