Workplace Culture.

Did you just groan when you read those words?

Sure, we’ve all heard the famous expression ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’.

And whilst I happen to agree that is 100% true, I also know from (sometimes bitter) experience, that saying I work with SMEs to cocreate exceptional workplace culture is often met with an eye roll or three. Sometimes outright derision.

Whilst researching for Workology Co’s White Paper Exceptional Workplace Culture: Why you need it, how to move towards it and prevailing the pitfallsI asked participants to define what workplace culture looks like. Here is one of my favourites:

Culture however is really the DNA of your organisation. Or it should be. Workplace culture is the feel and flow of an organisation. It is a combination ofpersonalities, policies and procedures and organisational structure that make up the emeanour of the organisation. It is in a sense, the personality of an organisation.

White Paper participant

Exceptional, great, or even good culture does not just happen. There is no magic wand that can be weaved to turn that ship around from a bad, toxic culture to a good one.

If culture is not deliberately designed, then it just evolves. And what it evolves into maybe far from ideal and may in fact be the complete antithesis of the Mission, Purpose, and Values of your organisation.

Let me paint you a picture

Back in Ye Olden days (ie pre-Corona) I conducted a cultural audit for a Joint Venture (JV).

This JV was made up of of a mix of employees from the two very different parent companies, as well as new recruits.

The JV had existed for around a year when I ran the audit.

Here was some of the things I discovered:

  • Team members continued to wear the uniform of their parent company rather than that of the JV.
  • Team members overwhelming sat in groups with employees from their parent company, even if they were in a business unit that consisted of a mix of employees (which most units did).
  • Business units had developed their own unique mini cultures, that reflected the style of leadership of the head of their department. Which in turn tended to reflect the parent company each leader belonged to.
  • There was a distinct lack of a sense of belonging to, or of being part of the team, of the JV entity.
  • Most audit participants were crying out for team building/ social bonding activities for the whole JV rather than restricted to business units.
  • Communication was less than ideal and tended to be restricted to employees communicating only with employees from their parent company. Which often translated into issues when information was not shared.
  • Blame was rampant, and again tended to be employees from one parent company vs employees of the other.

The JV had been created hastily without appropriate thought given to how to develop a new culture reflective of the JV.

Interestingly many of the employees had worked on numerous JV projects in the past and told me how on these previous projects, deliberate (and successful) efforts had been to create a unique JV culture from the outset.

One of the main problems with this unplanned and ad hoc culture is the personality that had sprung up was neither cohesive, team orientated nor ideal.

Everyone is not the same

The world is full of different people. Different backgrounds, sexes, qualifications, and experience, family circumstances. Extroverts and introverts, omniverts (mix of both).

Which in part means that not everyone will want to be involved in the social/team bonding activities several audit participants were agitating for in the JV audit.

A good and deliberately designed culture will take this into account.

Here’s another example to illustrate this for you.

A colleague (let’s call her Jen) works for a global brand that recently introduced an ISO strategy to introduce virtual drinks every Friday at 5pm. Jen is member of two teams and as a Melbournian, she was invited to the Melbourne team drinks.

The business unit Jen is a member of is largely based in Sydney. So, Jen was also invited to drinks with her Sydney colleagues.

Jen shared how the Sydney team embraced the drinks, shared lots of laughs and all seemed to benefit greatly from the connection.

The attendance at the Melbourne virtual drinks was low to begin with, and after a couple of weeks, fizzled and stopped altogether.

{Note: photo above not of *Jen’s Melbourne team. Image by licence courtesy of Shutterstock

The Melbourne team consisted mainly of parents of children who were remote learning, were reluctant to attend the drinks, exhausted at the end of the long week and with children demanding their attention.

The Melbourne team members however loved the alternative that was arranged – a lunch time session on Wednesdays. During the two-hour video conference, people could dial in and out at their leisure. One person would take responsibility for running a presentation like cooking their favourite meal, or my personal favourite, a karaoke session.

Attendees shared how they were feeling and had a few laughs whilst learning more about their team members. Retaining connection in this way meant the pre-pandemic culture developed when people worked alongside each other in the office was retained.

Both options for retaining team connection during the pandemic are great, but only one suited one of the teams.

The lesson from both case studies is hopefully clear to you by now.

Culture that just organically happens will never be ideal; it may in fact be the exact opposite to one that reflects your organisation’s purpose and values.

Deliberately designed culture is essential. But it needs to be designed in a way that considers that organisations are made up of a team of individuals, all with different personalities, interests, responsibilities.

If you would like some help finding out what matters to your employees so as to provide the right culture for your organisation,  contact me via 0400019599 or