Culture is a result of human beings’ craving for predictability and certainty. It develops over time when there is a consistent group of people, formed from shared history and the learning that comes from many experiences together. This creates patterns that define the acceptable ways to think and behave in response to various situations.
All groups of people, including teams and organizations, have a culture. Culture is accidental or unintentional if you don’t focus on it. Consider the culture of the groups you are part of and determine if it is:
- Unintentional (accidental): When no thought or focus is put into creating culture, an unintentional culture emerges. It isn’t good or bad, it’s just not directed to encourage high performance or accomplish organizational goals. During the pandemic, many groups, teams and organizations slid into this category as they focused on surviving. As leaders are looking to thrive during this time of relentless change, we’ve done culture pulse surveys to measure how their culture is reflecting their intentions.
- Hypocritical: This is easy to observe in an organization whose collective behavior contradicts the agreed-upon values or norms. Did you know that “integrity” was the stated #1 value of Enron? That is a clear example of hypocrisy! Far too many organizations have pretty values that aren’t lived. To avoid this common mistake, at our company we review one of our values and the supporting behaviors during each team meeting. Then we spend a few minutes talking about how we’ve observed the value being demonstrated. It’s a powerful, reinforcing conversation.
- Intentional (purposeful): This occurs when there is a focused effort to define an ideal culture, then align and manage the culture (which is the team’s values, beliefs and behavioral norms), in support of the organizational goals. We’ve worked with organizations from Guardian Life Insurance and CMMI to NACSA and the Episcopal Church to measure their culture and help the leaders create an intentional culture that honors their purpose, connects to their values and achieves their goals.
Leaders are responsible for creating, maintaining (and sometimes destroying) culture. (This favorite quote is paraphrased from Dr. Edgar Schein’s writing about culture in Organizational Culture and Leadership).
Don’t shirk your leadership responsibility and leave culture to chance. Your team, department or business will have greater levels of achievement and performance when you are intentional about culture.