Tag Archives: culture

A few thoughts on organizational culture.


Culture is the way we create solutions to shared problems.

Consider how human groups have evolved over the millennia.  Bands of individuals find themselves repeatedly faced with common problems – how to communicate, how to divide labor, how to show respect for one another.  Each group chooses to solve these problems in its own way.  And these unique combinations of beliefs and behaviors become the defining elements of human cultures.

At the organizational level, we can view culture in a similar way.  Organizational culture evolves as its members find solutions to everyday problems.  How do we interact with one another?  How do we best serve our customers?   How do we prioritize our time?

Your organization has a culture, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

Your people have been asking and answering these kinds of questions since day one, and in doing so, have established what is expected and accepted within your organization.

The big question, then, is how is this culture driving behavior that serves your mission?

Is it making your organization more effective or is it dragging you down?


Revised from original post – June 22, 2013



Giving yourself options…and a few other things I’m into right now.

tree stump on cliffThis is the view from my office window.  I keep thinking there’s some inspirational metaphor to be had… something about hanging on in the face of adversity?  I don’t know.  But it’s an interesting backdrop.

I love the idea of “engineering” the life you want and financial planner/money coach Leah Manderson hits the nail on the head with How I’m Planning to Be a Work At Home Mom Someday.

“With the work world becoming more flexible, I believe that it’s possible to have a fulfilling career that supports, rather than detracts, from motherhood. And I’m crazy enough to think I can engineer that life for myself… if I start working on it now.”

Amen, sister!  I’ve written here before that building a savings account is key to taking control of your career.  Both my husband and I have been able to leave unsatisfying jobs and/or change industries because we haven’t been saddled with consumer debt.  Does sticking to a budget suck sometimes?  Yep.  But having options is worth it.

Menlo Innovations CEO Richard Sheridan shares his company’s unique approach to workplace culture in Joy, Inc.  While there is much to think about in this book – hiring for cultural fit, creating changeable space, face-to-face communications – one bit I keep coming back to is this thought on extreme reactions to change:

“…in the face of a significant change initiative, emotional reactions fitting a standard bell curve will likely never create lasting change. You need the energy from the edges, not the middle.”

While I fear my days of being able to rock citron track pants at the office are well behind me, I admire Mary Orton’s sense of style and love browsing The Classy Cubicle.

I recently stumbled upon Grant McCracken’s take on contemporary culture via these two posts on Orphan Black.  So two recommendations here, really.  1- check out McCracken’s blog and 2 – watch this sci-fi conspiracy thriller from BBC America.  Tatiana Maslany, who plays all of the 5+ main characters, is crazy good.

P.S.  Are we Twitter friends yet?  Find me @TheMgmtMaven.


(This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.)


Are you making space for your introverts?

cube land

I love the idea of an open-plan workspace.  No walls, no barriers to communication.  Total synergy, total creativity.  But then there is the reality of an open-plan workspace. Noise. Chaos. People constantly up in my grill. Trying to get something done in this environment drives me absolutely bonkers.

Welcome to the world of the introvert.

Although we often think of the introvert as shy and the extrovert as outgoing, the difference really lies in how individuals manage their energy, how they refuel and recharge. Introverts are most comfortable exploring ideas internally and they recharge by being alone. They live inside their head and they like to think through problems before acting. Extroverts are drawn to activity, interacting with and drawing energy from lots of different people. They learn by doing and enjoy “thinking out loud”.

As a manager, you likely have a mix of introverts and extroverts on your team, and all to varying degrees. And you probably don’t have a lot of design control as far as office architecture goes. (If you do, you can create an environment like this.) But there are many ways to insure that your introverts have the space they need, both physically and mentally.

Allow individual or small group projects. Introverts aren’t sociopaths; they like people. But they may find working with large groups draining. Working in smaller groups will allow them to be at their best.

Utilize a variety of meeting formats. Introverts prefer the structure of presentations and formal meetings, where the conversational flow is controlled.  The free-for-all of traditional brainstorming sessions can be frustrating for introverts.  They also like to have a planSo utilize calendars, create agendas and allow time for preparation.

Let them speak. If you’re an extrovert, make sure you’re allowing an introvert to participate in the conversation. They think before speaking, so curb your need to jump in until they’ve had time to contribute. Schedule plenty of one-on-ones and include discussion of ideas, not just tasks and projects.

Respect the cube. When people are in their cubes, treat it as a no-fly zone. As an introvert, I despise the “drop-by”. At home, nothing sets me on edge more than an unannounced visit, when I’m in the middle of a project, my hair is a mess and toys are strewn everywhere. It’s the same in the workplace. Call first. (And we’ll screen you. But get over it.)

Allow and encourage use of headphones. If you have an open-plan layout, headphones are the universal “Do Not Disturb” sign.

Acknowledge that inspiration and creativity don’t only happen in high-stimulation environments.
We tend to idealize these types of environments in modern workplaces, the same way we idealize the extrovert as the creative leader. Introverts are great information processors and excel at connecting ideas. They just need some low-stimulation space to do it in.


You might also like:

Assessing your organizational culture? Start by looking around.


(Photo by Sonny Abesamis via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)


Assessing your organizational culture? Start by looking around.


Observing the office around you can be quite telling. Try these prompts to get you started.

Picture your staff’s individual workstations. What do they all have in common?
Is every desk covered in personal photos and other mementos? Techie toys and gadgets? Or is it all neat, tidy and nothing but business?

It’s lunch time on an average weekday. Where are your staff?
Is everyone out grabbing a bite together? Meeting in a conference room for a brown bag learning session? Or are they all hunched over a Cup-O-Noodles at their desks?

It’s 5:30 pm on a Friday. Where are your staff?
Did everyone go their separate ways at 5:00 on the dot? Maybe they’re all at the corner bar for some team karaoke? Or are they still at their desks, with miles to go before they sleep?

(Photo by yoppy via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

Non-profits and the pitfalls of crappy technology.

old floppy disks

I’ve been thinking a lot about the need to address culture change at the process level.

While leaders often try to kick-start culture change with broad, company-wide initiatives, the reality of culture is in the processes and procedures of the day to day.  Individuals draw conclusions about what an organization values by observing work processes, evaluation systems and resource allocation decisions.  So as a leader, you have a much better chance of making meaningful change by focusing your attention on those things.

What does this have to do with the antiquated computers, piecemeal reporting systems and hand-me-down phone systems that are found in many non-profits?  I believe the lack of proper tools illustrates the culture of scarcity that pervades those organizations and can also be a first step in mitigating it.

As a former non-profit administrator, I am well aware that scarcity is a reality.  There are rarely enough funds to meet the community need, leaders are under pressure from funders to keep administrative costs unrealistically low, and the funds that are available are rightly prioritized for direct service.  I get all that.  But I also think that the scarcity mentality leads to complacency and the acceptance of a lower standard.

Team members need the proper tools and resources to do their jobs.  Ignoring this leads to a culture that undervalues employees while simultaneously expecting them to perform miracles.  Mission-driven organizations depend on the passion of committed employees and volunteers.  But passion only goes so far. Hit too many roadblocks in your daily work and eventually passion will burn out.

If you want to change your culture of scarcity, start at the most basic level.  Consider what tools would help your team do their job better and focus your attention there.  Is top-of-the-line hardware realistic, or even necessary?  Probably not.  But demonstrating to employees, even in small ways, that you care about making their jobs easier goes a long way.


You might also like:

Are you meeting your team’s needs?


Watch your thoughts.

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habit.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
– Lao Tzu

As busy managers, we may overlook the important role we play in creating our workplace culture. The mindset we bring to our jobs can impact the destiny of the whole organization.

“Tell me how you really feel…”

pen and pad

Imagine an average day at your organization.  A consultant visits the office to observe and interact with the staff.  How would this consultant describe your organization’s culture?

This is one of my favorite prompts to use when doing an organizational culture assessment.  Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recently shared this post which sheds light on why this type of question is so effective.  In short, people are more likely to give their true opinion when speaking for others.  By taking the spotlight off the individual, we often get a more honest response.


You can find other prompts in the Culture Assessment – Short Form on the Toolkit page.