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It’s time to update our theories of org culture and how it manifests

Culture: in this instance, not the foul-smelling jar of sourdough starter gurgling on your kitchen bench. In this instance, we’re talking about an organisation’s shared values, goals, attitudes, rituals, and the unspoken rules for how everyone works together in comparison to others. 

But is culture really only confined to the physical workspace? And if not, is it only determined based on leaders at the top?

Traditional org culture theories

Established theories of culture state that it comes from the top… or it occurs when critical incidents are witnessed, and how those incidents are dealt with. There are also concepts of explicit cultural norms or more implicit norms of how things are done around here.

Values and culture were assumed at a time when there was a figurehead standing at the front of the assembly line, telling all the factory workers to do this, and do that. 

“We believe in integrity and honesty!” 

Oof. How many times have you heard that one? Let’s face it – all companies ended up having the same five values plastered up on their walls.

“But the reality is, employees come into organisations with inherited conceptions and worldviews, at the centre of which are embedded values that have become a part of their identity.”

Culture isn’t static – it’s naturally evolving

Culture continues evolving with the different events, actions and practices occurring within an organisation. The most obvious is during a company or division merger where there’s an influx of new employees and/or systems and processes.

Things change. People adapt. Culture evolves.

But it’s the pandemic that’s shifted our view of work and life, immediately requiring an adjustment to remote work that’s continued for 12-24 months. Remote teams adopted new systems, processes, and communication. ‘The Way We Do Things’ fundamentally morphed into something new!

So, what if culture manifests from within?

Now, as we move to more hybrid teams that are either together in person or distributed or completely remote, we know this notion of a ‘top down’ enforced culture isn’t really how it works in reality. 

These teams now represent mini-factories in which the culture emanates from within, meaning that different teams will have different cultures. One team may feel very different from another, and it’s about finding out what works for each: the rituals, feedback loops, systems, and communication. The way they do things around here, now.

But their evolving culture only works successfully if everyone is functioning as a team: aligned with each other, united with a common purpose, and taking ownership and accountability for making any change successful.

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