Organization & Leadership Consulting

The Risky “Organizational Value” of Basic Assumptions

Organization values on a compass over a a sky rise building

Values, in general, are easily identified. When identified, named, and consistently applied to thought, word, and deed, organizational values produce extraordinary results. Even before written down, they influence every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Clearly understood, they help differentiate what is important from what is most important. Values influence decisions and behavior whether they are conscious or unconscious. 

How to Make Your Organizational Value More Clear

If an individual disagrees with coworkers about how to approach an issue, and one of the agreed upon organizational values is harmony, the individual might set aside their disagreement for the sake of honoring that value.

However, if the organization’s higher value is directness, the person might speak up and risk disrupting harmony. Anxiety due to disagreement is diminished when the value system is clear and adherence to it is both expected and consistent.

Consider a time you were unaware of your supervisors’ priorities, yet you needed to make decisions they could approve or overturn. That feeling of uncertainty puts a limit on your sense of freedom and overall productivity.

Anxiety about how to please your boss, peers,  or even customers, can be paralyzing. The most effective way through it is to ask the other person what is important to them…and take the time to understand why. (Hopefully, they will also take the time to help you understand what and why.) 

But what if values are communicated clearly and yet seem disconnected from reality?

Basic Assumptions are Not as Easily Specified

An even deeper level of organization awareness is what Edgar Schein calls basic assumptions. According to Schein’s Model of Organizational Culture, basic assumptions are the usually unconscious beliefs about life, work, and others that shape how we think and behave.

At this deeper level, people are often unaware and yet sometimes defensive of their basic assumptions. In fact, some take offense if you ask them what they are assuming…because they want to believe they think and act with consistent, rational, intellectual congruency.

We all operate with a set of basic assumptions because we are wired for efficient use of limited energies (body, mind, and soul). Every occupation has its weeds. Some assumptions are like healthy nutrients, others take over the garden when untended.

You’ve seen how assumptions can either create or contribute to problems. As shortcuts, they don’t always conserve energy or resources. They serve best when named, adjusted, and agreed upon by those involved. Values are easily raised to the level of consciousness.

Assumptions, not so easily. When basic assumptions become aligned with stated organization values and things get moving, momentum increases more quickly. 

Each service provided by the TurningWest team is permeated with intentional values clarification conversations and resources. Aligned values mitigate interpersonal and interdepartmental friction, so the heat generated through working together provides warmth rather than harm. 

We Can Help with an Organizational Audit

Contact us today for an organizational audit for insights on navigating value systems, and more. 

-by Megan Sands, Associate Consultant


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