If you work within an organization or team, you may immediately identify with the following dynamic and have an inkling that you’ve lived this. At the very least, you may have found the experience frustrating. At its worst, this may have been reason enough to end your relationship a team or organization.
In 2016, I began to explore the existence of an organization’s culture core. Theoretically, the core would provide a foundation that would support not only support its people, but also the work to be done. Of late, I’ve been exploring a set of stability-enhancing constructs that may contribute to a strong, stable core. However, the potential of these constructs to have a positive impact, is not ensured.
Declared vs. Operating Culture
Stability-enhancing constructs cannot help us improve culture if there are silent obstacles blocking the path. This is not uncommon. A state where the declared culture — where what is intended or valued — is not reflected in what is actually occurring on a daily basis. Interestingly, we don’t often consider the gap between declared culture and real-time operating culture. However, the frustration that develops when a gap exists can not only affect individual contributors and teams, but the ability of the larger organization as well. In many cases, the right intention appears present, but things remain the same. The proof, so to speak, is not in the pudding. Add even a modest level of distrust, and even known obstacles are not discussed.
In a recent training delivery, we were deep in the process of exploring possible limiting factors — it became clear how these undercurrents can obstruct positive cultural intentions. Righting the course demands that we pay close attention to the cultural environment and expose its reality. If not, we are forced to function within cultures that carry along silent, negative pressure. This can be detected, in a variety of ways. We might invest in training — yet nothing seems to change. We might re-communicate the organization’s mission & values, but somehow behavior remain out of alignment. In some cases, the issues have been detected or accepted as “the way things are”, and those working within the culture may not feel empowered to share what they observe.
Identify the Undercurrent
Understanding what may stand in the way of progress is vital. This demands that we listen intently to the environments in which we work — and to those who are immersed within it. In my work with high-performance teams, this has become a key diagnostic exercise. The process is rooted in my early exposure to the auto industry and later on, to the Toyota Production System. Tantamount to Toyota’s system is the philosophy of Jidoka — where production could be stopped at any moment, if an employee detected an issue that affects quality (More here.) Jidoka is built on a deep respect for human wisdom within manufacturing environments. It supports “listening” intently to that environment. To those who understand it best.
To improve culture, we must mind the gap and listen closely.
Then we must respect what we hear.
Have you found yourself in an environment where the operating culture did not live up to the the declared culture? How did you proceed?
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.
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Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who explores challenge and change in work life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program since 2012 — her thoughts on work life and core stability have appeared in various outlets including Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.