Organisation culture is the key to much that happens (or does not happen) in a business or other organisation. Culture pervades all the relationships which underpin the organisation and influences all its decisions. In New Paradigm we use a range of approaches - from questionnaires to more expressive means - to diagnose and make explicit the current culture. We then offer tailored approaches to help organisations work with their current culture to change it appropriately.
The theoretical underpinning of our approach can be found in Richard Seel's Culture & Complexity, and a fuller account of our practice in Describing Culture. Our approach is participative, encouraging as many people as possible to inquire into the organisation's culture because the process of inquiry is itself the start of change.We don't follow the usual practice of asking people to fill in questionnaires to find out what their culture is like. Instead we try to tap into the deeper, unspoken, rules and assumptions which underpin organisational culture.
Inquiring into Culture
The purpose of these exercises is to help people 'surface' some of the hidden aspects of their culture and to have good conversations with their colleagues about what is important and what might need to change. Working alone or with a partner choose a few of the following approaches to diagnosing culture. If you work alone on an approach, find someone to share your findings with.
If the organisation were a <mode of transport, animal, soap opera character, football team, etc> it would be < > because < >. Choose a few to explore. You may decide to draw or sketch your answers.
Heroes & villains
Tell stories about the heroes, villains, fools and tricksters whose lives have affected the organisationpast and present (it isnt necessary to name them). What do the stories say about the organisation culture?
Draw or model
Make a sketch or drawing or model of the organisation as you see itbe as creative as you wish. Share your work with others.
Find an object
Walk around and find something which seems to sum up the essence of the organisation. Try to have an open mind; just wait until something strikes you as appropriate, rather than trying to come up with an idea and then finding something to illustrate it. If possible, bring it back to the inquiry to share.
What would an anthropologist say about the organisation? Some of the things to consider would include dress codes, meetings, rewards, environment, language, etc. The Culture Check List gives some indication of the things to look out for.
Complete the sentences
Complete the following sentences. Make up some of your own. our organisation always ; our organisation never ; our organisation loves ; our organisation fears ; our organisation hates ; our organisation desires ; etc.
What would you tell a newcomer to the organisation? What do they really need to know? To whom should they speak? What should they do?
Tell, or act out, stories or sketches which seem to capture something special to the organisation. Or write a poem, perhaps a haiku (exactly 17 syllables).
How do others describe the organisation? Within the organisation, and outside it. What do newcomers say? Ask them.
Imagine you are an intelligent visitor from Mars. Youve just been to the House of Commons, which was confusing. You think of a number of hypotheses to explain what youve observed: it provides custodial care for socially deviant middle-aged men; its a rehearsal room for practising farmyard impressions; it offers somewhere for vagrants to sleep in the afternoon...
You now visit your organisation at work. How do you make sense of what you observe? Develop a number of hypotheses.
You go on holiday for a couple of weeks. One day you decide to get a paper just to see whats going on in the world. To your amazement your organisation has made front page news. What is the headline? What would it be in a tabloid? In a broadsheet? In the trade press?
Your organisation has just won an award. What was it for? Who received it? How was it celebrated?
If the organisation were thought of as a body, what part of that body is your team or department?
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? What would it be in a tabloid? In a broadsheet? In the trade press?