The Air We Breathe: Noticing and Shifting Organizational Culture

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

“How are we showing up for each another?”
“How can we listen more deeply?”
“How can we bring our full selves to work?”

Increasingly, I’m finding that organizations are asking to examine and change their internal processes and culture. While leaders’ questions are always in the service of programmatic needs and desired outcomes, I’m finding that there is increased interest in and attention given to noting how interpersonal process informs outcomes.

Organizational culture is the air we breathe in our workplace. It is usually taken for granted, and when it is noticed, it can feel immutable or unnamable.

How do you notice and change the air? Sometimes it starts with slowing down and checking in with yourself. How do I feel when I come to work? How am I welcomed when I enter? What is on the walls? Where do I work in relation to others? What is the first thing that happens at our meetings? How is our phone answered?

You can find clues, as well, about your organizational culture by looking at the routines and practices at your workplace. How are birthdays celebrated? How do you find out when someone has done something extraordinary? Do you even find out?

You can also examine the stories that are told over and over again, both publicly (mission and vision statements, annual report, etc.), as well as the lore that’s been handed down from staff member to staff member

One of the most obvious ways to understand an organization’s culture is by reviewing its underlying structure, lines of communication, and individual roles. How are decisions made? Who needs to be informed? What are the boundaries of each person’s authority?

There are also skeletons in every organizational closet. Are they acknowledged and fed or ignored and feared? How much of how you do your work today has to do with how it was done yesterday, or the day before, or the year before that, or the prior decade? Does your organization cling dearly to what was or hurdle itself towards the unknown?

There is no such thing as good or bad organizational culture; however, there is the importance of value alignment, both internal and external. Are your personal values in alignment with those of your organization’s? How does your organization’s values manifest in its internal practices and in interaction with stakeholders?

Shifting organizational culture takes time. It involves understanding the assumptions underlying the current culture and developing the vision for a desired future. And then, of course, there’s the hard slog of creating and implementing new practices that are in alignment with the desired culture.

My work with organizational culture change is value-centered. You can read more about my approach here. Some of my values include: collaboration, inclusion, participation, equity, creativity, flexibility, and efficiency. If you feel your organization is in need of authentic examination of its culture and perhaps a pivot, contact me.

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