Organization & Leadership Consulting

Weathering an Organization’s Culture

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” I grew up in northern Minnesota. I’ve lived in the upper Midwest, northern California (Sonoma County), and southern California (San Bernardino mountains). I now live in Minnesota again. I’ve tent camped at 62° below zero and 112° above. Whether it’s high-end gear from an REI-type provider or a military surplus store, using the right gear in the right way at the right time is essential for survival and thriving.

People often choose where to live because of climate. They may think they chose because of the weather, but the underlying influences have to do with climate, which shapes the area’s  overall weather patterns. Increasingly, people choose where to work because of an organization’s “weather patterns”. Often, even if unaware of such matters, they eventually choose to stay or move on because of those patterns and the factors that influence them. Or they put up with them and settle for mere survival, sacrificing opportunities to thrive. 

Organizational culture is about more than the survival and thriving of the organization itself. Just as the hydrologic cycle of evaporation – condensation – precipitation is an integral part of the earth’s climate and weather systems, so is the cycle of how individuals and groups influence and are influenced by the organization’s culture. What goes around comes around. 

Organizational culture at its best is about the thriving of the individuals and groups of people serving within it and being served through it. Who and why we serve matters; it affects the tangible aspects of the organization’s activities, outputs, and outcomes – things of matter.

 A few suggestions on “dressing for the weather”:

  • Equip people as individuals for the ongoing development of their emotional maturity, internal locus of control, self-awareness, and relational values and skills.
  • Equip groups and teams of people with clear concepts and practical guidelines when it comes to group/team purpose, design, outcomes, and behavioral norms.
  • Equip the organization with clearly articulated and illustrated statements of organizational identity, purpose, strategy, and behavioral accountability as well as performance accountability.

Climate and weather are influenced by proximity to large bodies of water, mountain ranges, forests or deserts, proximity to the equator or the earth’s poles, and other factors that simply “are”. An organization’s culture is also influenced by myriad factors that “are”. However, many of those factors can be intentionally shaped; mountains can be moved, so to speak.

A few suggestions on how to “influence the weather”:

  • Regularly assess how messages about the organization’s values, mission, and other identity elements are experienced and perceived. It’s about more than how they are communicated. It is about how they are “decoded”.
  • Intentionally cultivate and gather stories that elevate and reinforce what you want people to believe about the organization and their roles within it. Shape the narrative.
  • Become skilled in recognizing when and how often decisions are made and actions are taken based on deeply ingrained assumptions about how problems are solved and opportunities are leveraged. Assumptions are short-cuts. Some short-cuts are helpful, others result in missing out on fresh insights, increased awareness, and deeper trust.

We’ll be posting more over the next several weeks on the Ten Primary Culture-Embedding Mechanisms: elements and factors that, like mountains, oceans, and forests, influence climate and weather. But when it comes to human organizations, these elements can be more effectively influenced and shaped than oceans or mountains.


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