Organization & Leadership Consulting

Ten Culture-Embedding Mechanisms (Part 3 of 4)

Repeat after me: “My organization’s culture is an outcome of what we collectively believe about the organization and how we behave alongside each other as a result of those beliefs.” 

So, what do you believe about your organization? Over the course of this blog, two prior, and one-to-follow, brief introductions to ten culture-embedding mechanisms will provide you with a set of levers with which to intentionally shift and set your culture into what you need it to be.

Set #3: The Nearly Invisible Mechanisms (number one of two)

  • Mental Models  – the intellectual and emotional frameworks we use to shape (align?) our approach to work and relationships. 

“Let’s go fishing.” What comes to mind when you read or hear that phrase? (Pause & reflect.)

What comes to mind will depend on your most prominent experiences, of course. Was it freshwater or deep sea fishing? Fly fishing in a mountain stream or ice fishing on a frozen lake? Was it on a commercial fishing boat or casting a net by hand so you could feed your family and barter with your neighbors for other goods? Whatever came to mind, and whatever feelings came along with that mental image, likely generated a mental model.

A mental model is a natural “go-to” mechanism for making sense out of something that might otherwise be too broad or too complex to grasp the meaning or intent of. Granted, some mental models acknowledge and allow for breadth and complexity, but even so it is a model that helps to “make sense”. When things don’t make sense, it could be due to a lack of an accurate or congruent mental model.

In the Mental Model Arena, Here are Three Scenarios When Things Don’t Make Sense. 

  1. When different people working together on the same project or process approach the task through different frameworks, not just different perspectives; sometimes aware of their own mental model, sometimes not. This results in miscommunication, misunderstanding, wasted effort, eroded trust, and more. Different perspectives using the same model… breakthrough insights, energy, and deeper trust results.
  2. When the mental model in use is incongruent with the process required or the outcomes needed. If you are expected to supply a national restaurant chain with fresh salmon on a weekly basis, you will not succeed with an ice-fishing rod on a frozen lake in northern Minnesota.
  3. When an old model is not fully “disempowered”, like the challenge faced by one of our clients, a county agency responsible for ensuring that families in need receive court-ordered child-support payments. For years they were organized as a division within the District Attorney’s office. This resulted in a mental model of “catch them doing it wrong and punish them”. Who would want to cooperate with that approach? Even the culture within the organization became punitive and fear-based. 

They are now living in a mental model of “partnering with families so that children can thrive.” That means partnering with both the custodial and non-custodial parents, and other agencies and institutions that will also help various members of the family. This shift in the mental model is reshaping the culture inside the organization, and altering the public’s perception of it as well. Mental models are powerful.

While it’s a little like finding your way through the fog, with humility and input from others, you can successfully discern together which mental model(s) will be congruent with the culture and outcomes you want. If you do not like the culture you have, do the difficult work of identifying the underlying mental model(s) that shaped it into what it is. More on that in our next blog.


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