by Myles Chadwick
At Emancipet we always hire and manage for culture – check out our webinar and article about these processes! Today we wanted to take a moment to remember why we approach our work with such an emphasis on organizational culture. We talk about culture in many of our workshops, in the office day to day, and even when we are chatting with friends in other fields about their work and what is working and what is not. So how does work culture impact us as individuals?
Recently, I had a visceral reminder of just how impactful it can be when the culture on your team goes toxic, or at the very least how it feels when you do not fit the culture of the team that you are working in. It was a week ago at 2:00 AM and I awoke with a start from a culture nightmare! Bleary eyed and in the dark it took me a couple of beats to realize that I had been dreaming of a workplace from my distant past, and that I did not in fact have to face that reality in the morning – whew!
In my dream, I was surrounded by bygone coworkers, and there was a tenseness and distinct lack of trust in the air. Someone leaned in to mumble a nasty comment about someone who had just left the room. I had deadlines approaching and as I asked colleagues for input, I found negotiations frustrating in that they seemed to stick and grind, never getting past 1st gear. I was contemplating turning in work that I knew was destined to be recognized as “adequate” at best, regardless of the work that I had put into it. This was an amplified dreamland version of a real place that I once worked and where, during my employment, I would have dreams like this frequently. Honestly, it was a terrible feeling!
What occurs to me is that I actually liked most of these former coworkers – it was not the individuals that I dreaded. The discomfort of this experience was in remembering how we went about our work, the type (or lack) of feedback that we gave and received, the posturing and competition that took place where it wasn’t warranted, and everything that happened in the spaces between the actual work. More than a decade has passed, yet in my dream I was right back there and able to remember all of the nuances of being out of step with my professional surroundings: feeling out of place, unheard, defensive, and frustrated.
Flash forward to now, waking in the middle of the night with my shoulders in knots, I breathe a sigh of relief that I no longer face that environment, and lean over to my phone to send myself a blank email with a subject reading Culture Nightmare! – and here we are.
What is it that makes or breaks workplace culture? How is it that one person might love the way a team goes about its work, while it might be someone else’s nightmare? Is the culture on your team or in your organization where you wish it was? Do you have a plan for getting it there?
The good news is that you can influence your culture towards the vision and the values that you want your organization to espouse, and the first step in that process is to first understand where it rests currently. We have a great tool, called the Culture Questionnaire, to help get you started! It is a simple set of questions that you can submit to everyone in your organization, or even just one team. It should be anonymous and you should encourage honest answers. Whether or not people answer honestly will tell you a lot about your culture too!
Culture is not static – it is always changing! For this reason, you may want to submit this questionnaire two or more times to get an accurate sense of how people feel. You will start to see patterns, and you may have some outliers too. The main thing to remember is that this is about the behavior of the group – so look for themes. Administering the questionnaire every so often will help you identify culture issues as they arise, and help you make a plan for how to address them before they cause too much harm. It’s like going to the doctor for an annual checkup – if something is wrong you will find out about it, and then your doctor will make a treatment plan.
This tool is a great first step to gather the information that you will need to create a treatment plan for your organization. Do not be afraid to tackle a culture shift; just take it one step at a time. Hopefully this will set you off in the right direction, and you and your staff will all be sleeping (and dreaming) easy soon!
If you want to learn more about building and maintaining healthy organizational culture, check out our upcoming seminar Great Culture, Great Results: Building Healthy Organizations from the Inside.