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Organisational Culture Q&A

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In my previous blog From Wolf Pack to Living Organism – how organisational culture has evolved and why it matters for leaders, I provided a summary of Laloux’s book Reinventing Organisations. 

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Since this blog I have had some great feedback and also some questions which I would like to address in this new blog. 

  1. Can we have more than one culture in our organisation?

The short answer is yes! Usually, different areas of the organisation can display different cultures or can orientate towards different values and priorities, but usually when culture is translated into organisational structure they tend to harmonise according to the culture or way of thinking of the people that set the rules. So typically, if you have an orange senior management you are likely to see an orange organisational structure throughout, with different capacities of local management and people to cope with an orange environment. At an individual level you may have some leaders or groups that resonate with a more later stage culture and value system but usually the leadership sets the tone for the overall culture of the organisation. So as an individual you may feel more aligned with a later stage but the presiding culture within the business will drive your day-to-day activities and conversations.

Furthermore, usually organisations have a centre of gravity of their culture but often they will display a trailing edge of their development. So, there may be something that needs to be cleaned up from an earlier stage. In practice we see that some orange organisations need to do some cleanup in terms of parts of the business that are too bureaucratic, not dynamic enough, not capable of being performance orientated. Even the most high performing organisation may have pockets of privilege or conservatism that hinder meritocracy or innovation. Equally some organisations will display a leading edge. So, we may see a group of people spearheading possible future developments. In this situation, one of the challenges is often for people to gather together and look at the complexity of this distribution in the organisation and what it means for how an organisation needs to cope in order to really thrive.

  1. Assuming that within the organisation there are different cultures with a possible trailing and leading edge can you do anything to help them move in a certain direction?

Again yes! That’s not to say that every organisation needs to be teal one day. As consultants, what we do when working with an organisation is to really understand the external environment and how the company strategy is trying to respond to those pressures. Some environments are very stable and predictable, so you don’t need to invest in creating later stage cultures. An amber organisation can really thrive in such an environment and you will not have to bear the costs of talent recruitment, training or engagement to move the culture. On the other hand, organisations operating in a dynamic but predictable environment, where innovation is key, may want to develop the orange focus on systematic productivity, continuous innovation, data analytics and measurement of relevant KPIs can really help to anticipate client trends and demands.The problem is that having moved in that direction, very often you start feeling the internal pressure of operating in a high-performance way and the impact that bears on people. Your company may start to feel pressure to develop more green-like processes or interventions i.e., dedicating time and energy to developing a wellbeing culture, as too much pressure and stress also leads to disengagement resulting in the loss of talent and lack of productivity. In fact, green organisations really thrive in environments where brand reputation and stakeholders relationships are very important. Creating the right culture – for example a culture of sustainability, ethics, inclusion or wellbeing – can be an asset for establishing a positive image of the brand, and attracting and retaining quality talents and purpose oriented individuals. Usually when you transition to a later stage you don’t lose the benefits of the earlier stage. A good green organisation only works well on a strong orange base. In transitioning towards a green model, therefore, you shouldn’t choose between high performance and wellbeing, but inquire about how you can develop both. In fact, high levels of engagement and wellbeing at work strongly correlate with operational and financial corporate performance.

  1. Can organisations move back and forth between cultures?

Yes! Unlike individuals’, organisations can move back and forth depending on the tone of the conversations of the senior leadership and how that translates into structures and processes, governance structures in particular. The strategy and the pressure the company derives from the environment. Moving backwards in this context isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The key question for organisations should be – Will this set up help us thrive in our environment? If you move backwards in terms of culture or organisational structure, you may experience people leaving but if you don’t need that kind of talent – those people can thrive somewhere else.

  1. How do TPC Leadership approach cultural transformation?

Unlike other cultural assessment/interventions which only look at horizontal dimensions – e.g. at what makes a culture different from another, or at what is needed for people to be more engaged – at TPC Leadership we look also at the vertical development of a culture: the cultural stages and transitions an organisation needs to address to thrive in its environment.

We start with the business strategy and enquire deeply into how much that is supported by your current culture; then we look at the features and structure of your organisation to understand what developmental tensions and constructs you need to address in order to facilitate the cultural changes you need to cope in your environment: these may include dealing with trailing edges, consolidating your centre of gravity, or fostering conversations and ways of working facilitate an organic transition towards your cultural leading edge.

We typically then help develop a short- and medium-term plan which will include elements of leadership development and organisational development. We don’t just work top down, as no culture will change if we only focus on a top-down approach.  We enquire into what are the existing values and strengths that provides a company with a sense of identity and how to bring to an organisation’s future the best of its present so people can recognise themselves in that vision for change – the natural unfoldment of inherent potential rather than a plan written by some random consultant who doesn’t truly understand you!

Get in touch if you would like to understand how TPC Leadership can support Cultural Transformation in your organisation.

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