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Six Common Cultures Companies Create

Over the last three decades, I have visited just over fifty countries in the world. Like millions of others, I love international travel because it affords such an education on the diversity of our world—ethnically, linguistically and geographically. German culture is so different than what I found in Argentina . . . and other places in Latin America. African nations are drastically different from Asian countries.

I remember spending two weeks at a campground in Budapest, Hungary in 1987. We slept in tents on a site where dozens of nationalities vacationed, from all over the world. It got to be entertaining trying to figure out where people were from as I encountered them, and then tried to communicate with French, Singaporean, Korean, Swedish, South African and Russian citizens. Variety is the spice of life.

The same is true with organizational culture.

Every school, company, team, hospital, department and non-profit has a culture—by default or design. Your organization has a culture and, likely several sub-cultures that guide how people act as they work. By definition:

Organizational culture encompasses values and behaviors that “contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.”

Leaders understand the power of culture on behavior and they leverage it. Doug Conant, of Campbell Soup believes: “To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” Tony Hsieh, of Zappos says, “To make customers happy, we have to make sure our employees are happy first.” The tone in the cubicle tends to go viral.

Six Common Cultures at Work

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Believe it or not, you are a carrier of culture. Whether you’re the senior leader or someone in the midst of the flow chart, you are contagious with your habits and attitudes. Far too often, we fail to remember this and spread the wrong ones. Let’s look at six of the most common cultures at work and how they impact productivity:

1. Toxic culture – This one is the worst. It happens on accident but is usually built off emotionally insecure leaders. People are suspicious of others. They’re afraid. They withhold information and they gossip. The culture is one of high risk and no failure.

Why It’s Bad: In this unhealthy, toxic atmosphere—productive, healthy people quit.

2. Distant culture – This is a culture where people are too preoccupied to be personal or caring. They’re not bad people, just busy people. Crowded calendars lead to demanding demeanors. Relationships suffer and work is dry and rote.

Why It’s Bad: People in this culture burn out and tend to do the bare minimum.

3. Fun culture – This one is attractive to most. It’s a culture that’s creative, open, unorthodox and often talkative. Leaders cultivate an atmosphere full of smiles and engagement. Who doesn’t want that? It drives companies like Zappos and Google.

Why It’s Bad: It can blur lines of responsibility and distract everyone from the progress that needs to be made.

4. Confused culture – This one happens far too often. Due to so many priorities, people are guessing as to what to do first; what’s most important. Vision is unclear; people resort to busywork just to stay out of trouble. None will admit that they’re fuzzy regarding the essential work that needs to be done.

Why It’s Bad: It leads to activity without accomplishment. People become territorial.

5. Stagnant culture – This one happens to organizations that have been around for years. The goal is to maintain status quo; people aren’t willing to pay the price of growth. And leaders are closed to new ideas. Folks just want to keep their nose clean.

Why It’s Bad: The memories are bigger than the dreams. Glory days are in the past.

6. Blind culture – This culture isn’t necessarily negative, but it’s risky because it’s filled with “Yes People” who merely do what the boss says. Past routines blind folks from seeing new possibilities; it’s one-dimensional. Few creative options are seen in this culture.

Why It’s Bad: It’s limited since everyone relies on the boss to come up with new ideas.

Do any of these cultures sound familiar to you?

Better Yet . . .

I believe we can improve on all of these by creating a “Leadership Culture.” One that is empowering; trusting; caring; equipping, and responsible. It’s a culture that enables everyone on the team to think and act like life-giving leaders, but everyone understands and owns their responsibility. While there is a point person in charge, ideas may come from every person, and problems can be solved by any source.

This is exactly what we’ll be addressing at our National Leadership Forum, in Atlanta, on June 23-24, 2016. Join Dr. Ken Blanchard, Gene Smith, Meria Carstarphen, Kyle Stark, Dr. Wayne Hammond, Austin Moss and myself as we wrestle with how to build a great culture in your company, school, team or organization. In addition, we’ll host eight “Labs” full of practical application. For information, CLICK HERE.

2 Comments

  1. Tom B. on May 12, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    Nice article as always, but I suspect that you are referring to a “stagnant” culture rather than a “stagnate” culture–“stagnate” being the verb and “stagnant” being the adjective.

    • Tim Elmore on May 20, 2016 at 3:42 pm

      Thanks for catching that, Tom. We’ll fix that now.

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Six Common Cultures Companies Create