Every organization has a culture. It may be hard to describe but everyone feels it. Culture is the organization’s character and personality. It is the sum of its values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors, and attitudes. It is affected by leadership roles and actions, organizational systems, management philosophies and practices, the physical environment of the workspace, and so on. It is pervasive.
Work groups also have a culture. These are created by the overall organizational culture, of course, but also by the group’s individual leader. While group leaders often won’t be able to totally control their group’s culture, they can have a significant influence.
Among the many decisions leaders make– intentionally or not – that affect culture are:
- How will group members communicate with each other: by email, in person, a combination of both?
- What kind of work hours will be required – and when?
- How must employees manifest their “commitment” to the job – by doing good work, working long hours, something else?
- Is input on management decisions discouraged or encouraged?
- Can employees speak frankly to management about their concerns?
- What kind of behaviors are allowed – frequent swearing, expressions of anger, gossip, cliquishness?
- What is done to make everyone on the team feel included and appreciated?
- Is there overt or subtle favoritism on the part of management?
- Are employees accountable for their actions or is blaming others the norm?
- Are different approaches and personalities respected?
- Do people laugh enough — in a good way?
If you’re a leader, it is well worth your while to take some time to answer these questions and others that come to mind. If things are not going as well as you hope, the underlying culture of your group may be a part of the problem and once identified, you can work on it. Don’t hesitate to bring team members into the discussion — just involving them will be a start to improving the culture.
One caution. Sometimes, leaders and employees will refer favorably to their workgroup as a “family.” This is a nice idea, but has its definite perils. As an idealized concept, family brings to mind a friendly, casual, and supportive workplace. However, families also have a host of behaviors that are not helpful or appropriate in the workplace. Within their families, people can be emotional, behave badly, discuss very personal issues, retain grudges, and so on. Families have very different boundaries than those required in a workplace. More bluntly: a family is just not a very professional environment!
A different paradigm is needed: one that includes the positive aspects of “family,” without bringing in those aspects that are not appropriate in the workplace context.
What other questions should a leader ask when evaluating his or her work group’s culture?