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Don’t Settle for a Culture – Create it!

The pandemic and its impact on where and how we work has spurred a more constant and louder conversation about organizational and team culture. Much of the conversation has been about how a hybrid or remote working environment ruins culture, leading many to opine for the culture they had pre-pandemic.

While many organizations did have a wonderful culture in 2020, many others who are looking back are looking for something known and comfortable – not something that was truly supportive and helpful in reaching personal and organizational goals. As we look at this reality, it provides us an opportunity to learn something about organizational and team culture and gives us the perfect time to apply those same lessons.

What is Culture?

Before we go any further, let’s define culture. Culture is simply the way we do things around here. Given that definition it is important to realize that anytime you bring a group of people together (yes, even virtually), culture will exist, and it will always be changing too – as the players and context change.

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A Non-Work Example

Here’s a simple example of these two profound truths.

Think about a holiday where you gather with your family. There are certain things that happen, certain foods that are served, and a whole variety of things that happen – every time. That is your culture. Now think about how that has changed over the years – maybe not in big ways but in small ones. It changes as people mature, as new family members arrive, as people bring in new spouses, and as people are no longer with you. Your holiday culture exists, yet it changes and evolves.

Now let’s say you wanted to introduce some activity or interaction to the event. It can be done, but it will take effort, and requires the commitment of others for that “new thing” to become part of the culture, right? Importantly, it can be easier to make those desired changes when other changes are also happening (like a new family member is hosting)

What Does That Mean for Our Team and Organizations?

There are (at least) five lessons about culture we can take from the example above.

  • You don’t have to live with the culture you have today. There are three cultures you should consider:  the one you had (pre-pandemic), the one you have now, and the one you desire.
  • Building the future culture needs to take the past into account. There may be facets of your pre-pandemic culture that you want to re-capture. And there may be things from your current one you want to maintain.
  • Define the culture you want. In a family situation, you might not have a family meeting to define this, but as you adjust for the future, you want to keep people’s interests and values in mind.
  • Involve others. For a new culture to take hold, everyone must be involved.  Creating your aspirational culture needs input, and commitment from everyone to take shape.
  • Start small. While this might not apply in your family situation, in organizations people often wait for senior leaders to address culture. While senior leaders do have a role to play in your macroculture, teams have a microculture too.  And much can be adjusted and changed in “the way we do things around here” at the team level.

Final Thoughts

While there is no doubt that you already have a culture. You don’t have to live with the one you have. Discuss what you would like it to be – and how your culture could serve individual, team, and organizational needs. When you realize you can change it, you have taken the first step towards improving it.


Written by Kevin Eikenberry

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