Have you ever noticed when you walk into your office, workplace or a meeting, you quickly get a feel for it? Perhaps it feels hurried or calm, or chaotic or organized. It’s almost like they have personalities.
Your workplace has an intangible quality that makes something about it distinct and decidedly different, but difficult to define or describe. Regardless, you know whether you like it or not, want to be there or quickly run away.
We call this sense of an organization its culture.
An organization’s culture is a difficult concept to define or describe. It’s not clear or visual. It’s not something you put neat and tidy into a slide show. Culture is not something you can touch or feel.
In fact, Herb Kelleher, the charismatic, maverick founder of Southwest Airlines once famously said, “Culture is admittedly difficult to define. I suppose in that respect it is somewhat akin to the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography. You know it when you see it.”
And like Herb, we bet you have a gut sense of what your culture is all about.
It is an innate sense that each person has about how things are done around here. Culture is the stuff that isn’t talked about, written down or even concretely understood but followed by everyone.
An organization’s culture is often compared metaphorically to an iceberg. That’s because, just like an iceberg, some aspects are evident, like the style of your office setup. Other aspects are not so obvious, like when to ask the boss a question and when to stay quiet.
To understand organizational culture, you must use your sixth sense - your intuition. We recently asked three different people for their reactions to their work environment.
On an average day, which reaction would be most like yours? You may say one, two or all three.
The three reactions describe three distinct types of culture: ones that are toxic, tolerable or magnetic.
While these three types of cultures are representative of three points on a continuum, we find teams or organizations rarely stay in one place on it.
Any team, on any given day, will feel the culture shift dependent on a multitude of variables - some they can control and others they cannot. For example, one individual's mood or recently announced shifts in your industry’s regulations will impact how you will rate your culture today.
We have days when we think our workplace is the best place on earth and other days when we can’t imagine staying there for another minute and still others where we can take it or leave it. The key is to find a way to have more days when we are excited to be on the job - times when we believe we’re really making a difference.
DO THIS: Think about your workplace culture for a minute, and then consider the type of culture you desire. We bet you are looking for a bit more engagement, cohesion and meaningful work. We are right there with you. The first step is naming where you are. Next, it’s deciding where you want to be, then working on getting you there.