Catching Organizational Culture
Guest Post by Marcella Bremer
I’m delighted to host this guest blog from Marcella Bremer, author of Developing a Positive Culture. Marcella’s work focuses on the practical steps that anyone can take to develop a positive culture. She draws on research and field work to offer a range of tools to engage others and contribute to a constructive and productive workplace.
Did you ever “catch” organizational culture as it happened? Maybe not consciously, but you did. Just like the deeper layers of values, a culture is represented and sustained in the daily (inter)actions. What do the routine, mundane interactions within your organization tell you about the current culture? Take a look at the meetings, especially. Meetings are to an organization what the agora used to be in ancient Rome. They’re public spaces where speeches are heard, people are being influenced, priorities negotiated, and status and ranking are reinforced. Observing what happens at a meeting indicates:
- Why people get together
- Who’s in charge and how safe the others feel
- What matters; what is being valued
- What interactions are normal
- How people relate to each other and how they address the decisions and topics at hand
- When and where they take action
Looking at your organization, what would your answers be?
In a positive culture, the answers paint a powerful and constructive picture of the organization… an organization in which people convene because they care about the topic and it’s necessary to convene. Where all stakeholders get together, no one’s in charge (they are all responsible) and everyone feels safe to speak up and contribute. Where what matters is the purpose they are trying to achieve, and what they value is collaboration, learning, personal ownership, transparency, and getting it done. A dialogue where ideas are exchanged, people are valued and behave authentically, leaving everyone energized. They address each other and the topics from a positive mindset that acknowledges what is working well and how to amplify and improve.
But isn’t such a positive culture a luxury and a utopia? Shouldn’t people just do their jobs? Is this even possible?
The latest research and practice show that a positive culture is possible and that it “broadens and builds” organizations. People who feel positive and purposeful, who are learning and supported, will be more productive, collaborative, innovative and ready to change. Broaden-and-build, researched by Barbara Frederickson, means starting a positive spiral: when people feel positive they tend to become more open and resourceful, achieving better results which reinforces the positivity. A positive culture is not a luxury as it contributes to the bottom line of organizations and the development of people.
In a positive culture, people take full responsibility for achieving a shared purpose and work with a positive mindset to achieve the best possible outcome. Yes, you read that correctly. It is full engagement. It shows during meetings when you see people leaning in instead of leaning back. It’s not vague, but palpable and concrete. It is not fluffy, but solid and specific when you check your dashboards after some time.
What Can You Do?
Great, you may say… but how do you develop a vibrant workplace where people have a positive mindset, collaborate generously among themselves, learn and take ownership, all fueled by a shared purpose?
One powerful and underutilized strategy is simply to ask more questions. Research by Heaphy and Losada shows that leaders high-performing organizations ask more questions. Questions engage others around a topic. They create connections as people are eager to share their points of view and understand the perspectives of others. And when you make it a “positive question,” you can focus on achieving positive outcomes. For instance: “What would be the best thing that could happen in this project? How can we make that happen?”
Marcella Bremer MScBA is an author and culture consultant. She is the co-founder of the online Positive Culture Academy at www.positive-culture.com. Her blog offers weekly inspiration at www.leadershipandchangemagazine.com. Grab your copy today at www.amazon.com/Developing-Positive-Culture-People-Performance/dp/1628654406/