You don’t have to look too far to find stories about how an organisation’s poor culture has been the root cause of their malaise, poor performance, regulatory breaches or lousy customer service.
We all know that organisational culture matters. No doubt you’ll have heard culture referred to as ‘the way things are done around here’. It includes the unwritten rules of behaviour about what is acceptable and unacceptable.
It’s pervasive. Shifting an organisation’s culture from sub-optimal to optimal takes a long time; sadly, it can move from optimal to sub-optimal far more quickly. This is particularly so when effective leaders depart and are replaced by ineffective leaders.
Notice the shift
It’s crucial to know the part you are playing.
Consider – What part are you playing in cultivating a healthy organisation or team culture? Answering that question starts with you examining the impact the organisation’s culture is having on you.
As tribal creatures, we notice what other people are doing and often quickly adopt and accept the behaviour of those around us to help us adapt to our surroundings.
This adaptation often happens faster than we realise.
In the early 1970s, a primatologist – Hans Kummer – worked in Ethiopia with two species of baboons. The first species were Savanna baboons which lived in large troops. The other species were Hamadryas baboons with a more complex and multi-level society. When confronted with a threatening male, the females of the two species reacted differently: a Hamadryas baboon placated the male by approaching him, whereas a Savanna baboon would run away to avoid injury.
Kummer took a female from each group and released them into the alternate tribe. He found that these two females initially carried out their species-typical behaviour. That is, they behaved the way they always have in the past – the way they were biologically wired to behave. However, it took only a short time for them to be socialised to new behaviours. How long? It took about an hour.
We want to think we are more evolved than baboons and therefore are more conscious of what is influencing our behaviour. Yet, we are often more affected than we realise.
This process of ‘culturalisation’ (as I call it) can happen to all of us. If you reflect on your first day at work (which may have been some time ago), you would have been acutely aware of the new environment and sought ways to adapt to make it work.
If you committed a social faux pas, someone would have pulled you aside to say something, or you would have gotten strange looks from colleagues. As tribal creatures, we can shun people who don’t conform to and adopt conventional behaviour. Consequently, it takes little time for the required social cues and behaviours to be adopted.
However, this can also lead to instances where difference is seen as a negative, so diversity is shunned.
Recent research from global consulting firm DDI, released in their 2023 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Report, found that organisations with greater leadership diversity are 2.4X more likely to outperform their competitors. Companies that rank in the top 10% among their peers in financial performance have at least 5% more leaders who are women and from minority backgrounds than below-average performers.
It is very easy for leaders and business owners to want to hire people like them. The similarity makes a person feel comfortable. However, hiring people like yourself fills the team or workgroup with people with similar backgrounds, experiences and thought processes.
This homogeneity can negatively impact how decisions are made. The more alike people are, the more likely they are to think along the same lines, and therefore, there is less room for debate, discernment and disagreement.
Research from Kellogg University shows that diverse teams make better decisions. That diversity is not just about gender or ethnicity; it includes age, experience and background. The diverse groups outperform more homogeneous groups not because of an influx of new ideas but because the diversity triggers more careful processing of the discussed information.