Whether you are looking for a job, contemplating a move in your career, or staying where you are: what is your ideal organization culture? When would you be at your best? Remember that your time on earth is priceless! Don’t settle for the daily grind but have fun while you make a difference.

Contemplate the Culture

Culture goes deep, from values and beliefs to daily habits, and it’s about everything. Culture is reflected in every action and interaction. Just look at the repeated interaction patterns and you’ll get an idea of the “way we do things around here”.

Everything that happens as a pattern (repeatedly) is a reflection of the culture: what people prioritize, what the criteria for success are, what they tolerate, what they say and what they do. Do people value people, results, procedures, new ideas? What do they ignore, and thus tolerate? What’s normal? What’s “not done”?

A company culture influences all the teams in an organization; but also the other way around! Every team develops their specific team culture and contributes to the organization culture.

Whether you’re applying for a position or staying where you are: don’t get blinded by secondary features. The happy hour or other perks (even though very nice) are like the furniture. Nice to use, but whether you feel at home depends on the people and how they treat you.

What works best for you?

First, ask yourself what your ideal organization culture would be. When are you at your best? When do you thrive? Research suggests that a positive culture develops when there’s a shared meaningful purpose, a focus on what is working well (the half full glass), collaboration, learning, and autonomy.

What to ask in a job interview?

If you agree with that research, ask the recruiter:

  • How do they respond to mistakes?
  • What decisions can associates make without consulting their supervisor?
  • Ask for examples of how colleagues work together.
  • How long do meetings last, and are meetings for information exchange, brainstorming, or decision making?
  • Check what is mandatory and what associates can choose to do.
  • How would they describe the leadership style?
  • How often do people talk with their leader?
  • What’s the road a new idea must travel before becoming a new service, product, or project?
  • What does an average work day look like?
  • What is absolutely not done over here?
  • What do you need to do to become employee of the month in your organization?

The answers will give you an idea of how well you’d fit in: listen for collaboration and support, for choices and freedom, for voluntary attendance, for active engagement, brainstorming, for rapid and regular sharing of information, for learning, and a low power distance between leaders and associates.

Scanning the culture for Competing Values

The Competing Values Framework identifies four archetypes of culture: people-oriented, results-oriented, process-oriented or focused on creating new ideas and things? You probably have a preference for people and doing things together, or for results and getting things done, for doing things right (follow the process), or for doing new things. Listen to hear what they emphasize.

The four archetypes of culture are correlated to personality types. If you feel great when you achieve results on your own, you might become impatient in a people-oriented culture that values participation. If you thrive on learning and improvisation, the efficiency of smooth processes could bore you.

Is your issue a culture problem?

If you’d like to stay where you are, but you have some challenges: how do you solve them? How do you know when it’s a culture problem or not?

The culture will influence any issue at work. Whether it’s slow procedures, lack of resources, bossy leaders, endless meetings or dissatisfied customers. Many issues can be solved or bypassed by a creative team.

So, if problems persevere, check the facts to find the culture factors at play:

  • Why is this an issue?
  • What happens exactly and what’s the effect?
  • Who is involved? Who benefits from the issue? Who lets it be? Who has the power to tackle it (and why don’t they)?
  • How could we solve or bypass it? When and where?
  • Why don’t I solve it? What and who do I need to help me? How could I get started?

You might find that the answers highlight a pattern of repeated behaviors. Behaviors are motivated by values and beliefs (what’s important) and the benefits they offer. Behaviors are reinforced and repeated within organizations: here’s the link with culture. Your issue might be part of the “way we do things around here”.

For instance:
The procedures aren’t slow but colleagues hide behind them.
The budget is not the problem, but the willingness to allocate it (and to make choices, thus alienating certain allies within the organization).
The bossy leader repeats what his leader does to him; reinforcing a fast, competitive getting-things-done culture.
The endless meetings serve as a way to be seen and feel important, or are caused by conflicts of interest and an inability to make decisions.
Dissatisfied customers turn out to be a signal of complacency and an unwillingness to listen.

What if you don’t fit into the culture?

What if you enjoy your individual work but you don’t fit into the company culture? How you deal with that depends on you, your goals, and your situation. You could try to accept the culture, but to really thrive and bring your best Self to work, you’d need a great fit with the culture. You need to feel at home: you need to be you to do your best work (and not play a part).

In case your job doesn’t require many interactions, you can “do your thing” and be great. But you need to have frequent interactions with others, the misfit with culture might hinder both you and the results you can achieve.

Develop a more positive team culture

The good news is that it’s possible to develop a “culture bubble” with your direct co-workers – if they share some values with you. The team culture is where your influence is biggest.

When you change your interactions – you invite the others to interact differently. Your team might develop positive support, creativity and great results. Your team might inspire other teams in the organization to do the same. Start small, with daily interactions. Check if the others are open to some positive changes and see how you could enhance the elements of a positive culture.

If the people around you are unable or unwilling to change, your options are to stay (and risk becoming disengaged, and missing out on enthusiasm and your best possible work) or to find a better place to work.

Leave when the culture is toxic

If a culture is toxic, it’s best to leave. A toxic culture reinforces negative behaviors that hurt people: think about gossip, politics, lying, bullying, hoarding information, being unkind, refusing support, and so on.

If a culture is so-so, decide whether you can endure it (for instance, a workplace of apathy or working-too-hard) or whether you can develop that “culture bubble” with your direct co-workers.

Don’t settle too soon for so-so. Remember that your time on earth is priceless! Look for (or develop) a positive culture where you can thrive and where every day brings learning, excitement, collaboration, and results that you care about.

If you want to learn how to develop a positive culture, join the online Positive Culture Academy today. Make a difference at work!

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© Marcella Bremer, 2019. All rights reserved.

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