Can you design culture? The folk at Fearless Culture think so. I don’t disagree. But culture is one of the more challenging aspects of an organisation to design and needs to be complimented with organisation development practice and mindset. If practitioners and leaders think that you can start with a blank canvas or end up with a perfectly formed endstate, they are destined for disappointment.
Culture is a system
Even when you start an organisation from scratch, the founder and others joining them bring their own values, beliefs, assumptions and ‘show up’ with individual behaviours – culture is mearly an umbrella term for all these things and much more. I find it easiest to think of culture in organisations as an ecosystem.
Shein’s lily pond Adapted from: Shein, E. (2017) Leadership and Culture 5th Editition shows the elements that make organisation culture and how they all interconnect and influence each other – the system’s connected elements flow virtically, horizontally and diagonally both ways. Practitioners and leaders need to understand this and the prevelence of the butterfly effectWiki – The Butterfly Effect – “interventions” will sometimes have visible and directly tangible effect, invisible effects that can’t be measured. Some change will be almost instant and some might not ‘show up’ in a system for years.
Organisation leaders will never be ‘done’ designing culture. It will need continuous assessment, design and intervention. But do not lose hope – it is possible to nudge culture and create healthy organisation ecosystems as long as culture receives the attention it deserves. Organisations heralded as successful right now have all spent significant effort to pay attention to culture (see the examples on the Fearless Culture site).
Culture design canvas