Making Your Culture Explicit

Culture sets the tone of ‘how we do things around here’Culture defines and explains the way an organization or team operates.

Culture is Like an Iceberg

We know from the story of the Titanic that only the top of the iceberg was visible; the biggest portion was underneath the water and invisible yet had tremendous impact as it sadly sank the Titanic!

So, the visible aspects of culture, that 10% above the water line are what we see on the surface: For example, the organization logo, symbols, how space is used, the way people dress, or the way they talk.

The not so visible elements of culture the 90% below the water line are our values (what’s important, what we care about) and the behaviours (the way we act). These impact your organization in three ways:

  1. Establishes an identity people feel connected and committed.
  2. Aligns everyone’s behavior so that they’re rowing in the same direction.
  3. Provides the basis for making the right decisions and taking the right actions.

Essentially, it is what’s below the water line that drives your organization’s success or failure.

In a Deloitte Consulting study, 98% of executives and 88% of employees believe workplace culture is important to success. Organizations, with a strong culture, outperform organizations with weak cultures.

What’s Your Culture?

Culture is more than posting nice sounding words on the walls of your offices and boardrooms. Culture gets built one day at time, one interaction after one interaction. Such interactions are driven by values and shape beliefs about how we do things around here. These beliefs, in turn, drive people’s actions, which collectively produce results.

So, How to Start? Develop Simple Rules, Your Organization DNA

In today’s fast-paced, information-rich, and ever-changing work environments, your organization is facing and having to adapt to change from all fronts. Building and maintaining a solid foundation to support an adaptable, positive culture is difficult in the face of shifting and competing priorities, doing more with less, bringing new groups of people together, working in new ways and for many in physically separated workplaces. These changes in work environments are forcing organizations to think about organizational sustainability in new and different ways.

Individuals on a team are interdependent in successfully completing joint tasks. Their interactions, on a day-to-day basis and over time, create patterns of behaviour in the team and throughout the organization. So, how can your organization create a working environment where your people work together to create a positive, sustainable culture that moves the organization toward its goals?

What would happen if your people agreed explicitly to observe a common set of behaviours? If the predominant behaviour of your people is to trust and support each other, the culture would be one of trust and support. On the other hand, unethical or distrustful behaviour among people could lead to an overall culture of distrust and unethical behaviour. Simple Rules help people know how to function together. They also inform how the work will be done in specific and operational ways.

Simple Rules as a Tool to Build Teams and the Organization as a Whole

Simple Rules are like DNA, carrying the code that governs how organs and cells are built and how they work in the human body. You can use Simple Rules to:

  • Build productive relationships,
  • Establish expectations for behaviour, and
  • Enhance the quality of work performance.

To begin a conversation about developing Simple Rules, questions are key to identifying what your people value. How do we want to operate with each other around here? What is one thing that you want to fix? What is one thing we do really well and want to do more of? How do we want to treat our coworkers and customers? These questions will lead to those few critical ideas that are the Simple Rules.

Simple rules in action

To give you an idea of what this looks like in action, the following is a list of some Simple Rules that are elegant in their simplicity:

  • Teach and learn in every interaction.
  • Leverage the strengths in others.
  • Search for the useful.
  • Try it before it’s perfect.
  • Inquire and seek to understand, don’t blame.

When decisions are made, when gaps in services are identified, and in building productive relationships, your people can return to these rules for guidance.

Imagine how the power of Simple Rules could transform your organization.

Interested in learning more about embedding Simple Rules in your team and organization? Get Started Today.

[1] Referenced from and Eoyang, G. (1997). Coping with chaos: Seven simple tools. Cheyenne, Wyoming: Lagumo Publishing.

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