Is Your Organisation’s Culture a Force for Success? …and what is organisational culture?

I woke up this morning seeing ‘organisational culture’ as nothing more than the prevailing ‘group mind-set’. This is great news for organisations, given that mind-sets are generally far more flexible and dynamic than we might imagine. We know that our own mind-set can in one instance make us feel stuck and frustrated and in another wise and on top of our game. This means that ‘culture’ is actually nothing more than a collection of thoughts that over time appear to have taken on a more solid form, through custom and practice, and re-telling of stories they have the appearance of being ‘real’. They may or may not be relevant and appropriate in today’s organisation; like clouds on a cloudy day, they may block out the sun!

In my early career I worked for many years in organisational development (and HR) for a company with a predominant growth and development mind-set. Our MD really saw the value of people pulling together, of respect, kindness and giving the space for people to grow, develop and enjoy what they were doing. The feeling that we created was so palpable that visitors, including customers, often commented. I clearly remember coming in early one morning for a new product trial with a Tesco Technical Manager; we passed the night shift clocking off at the end of their shift and most of them greeted us warmly and politely. The Tesco Manager commented on the extraordinary sense of comradery. During this time, teams were regularly given the space to explore new ideas and new ways of doing things (we also had a suggestion scheme). It was a great place to work and we pushed the boundaries of product development and profitability.

What I often see now in organisations is the opposite effect. People are too busy-minded; the mind-set is one of surviving rather thriving. We talk about organisations in the 21st century having an ever-increasing need to deal with complexity, rapid change, more outside interference – be more agile, faster, better, act more responsibly! We want people to be resilient, creative, collaborative and yet fill every minute of every day doing stuff, following prescriptive procedures and chasing improbable targets.

Culture, like an individual mind-set will either stimulate or inhibit the energy in the system. I now see this reservoir of energy as potentially infinite if all the ‘stops’ are out. More energy is available when individuals understand the inside-out nature of how the mind works; busy, ego-based thoughts settle and in the resulting silence and space comes fresh thinking, leading collectively to greater feelings of well-being, clarity and resilience. Ideas, intuition and humanity are the forces behind growth and business success.

The most hopeful part of this message is that if indeed ‘organisational culture’ is nothing more than a prevailing ‘group mind-set’, a collection of thoughts in people’s minds, then your organisation is only ONE (collective) thought away from being a completely different place to work. This is supported by the fact that when our MD retired he was replaced by a leader with a very different mind-set and immediately things started to change – gone was the space and with it the extraordinary collaboration and humanity for each other, to be replaced over time by the survival mentality!

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