These days everyone is a culture expert. We use negative words such as ‘blame’, sexist’, ‘toxic’ or ‘disrespectful’ to describe dysfunctional or bad cultures; and words such as ‘innovative’, ‘agile’ and ‘inclusive’ to describe positive or aspirational cultures. But none of these words are ‘cultures’; they are outcomes. Outcomes can be positive (capabilities) or negative (dysfunctions) but they are not cultures.

A culture is by definition a set of values and beliefs.

Values and beliefs result in behaviours and behaviours deliver outcomes. Therefore, to build capability or eradicate dysfunctions we have to change our beliefs, we cannot simply ask for different outcomes.

Let me explain. If we believe that failure is unacceptable, then we will observe a behaviour of not taking responsibility for mistakes and the outcome will be blame. However, if we believe that experimentation and acceptance of some failure is critical then we will see behaviours like exploratory thinking and the outcome may be innovation.

So, when we need to change our outcomes, we need to change our belief system which is easier said than done. In our experience the first stage of re-wiring our beliefs is self-awareness. If we understand the limitations to our own thinking and how we differ or align with others we can start to understand the example we set as leaders, and consequentially why our organisation behaves the way it does and delivers the outcomes it does.

When it comes to organisational culture, we’ve identified 6 sets of beliefs that determine everything else in our business including the behaviours we display, the practices we adopt, the processes we design and the skills we build. This ultimately leads to the organisational capabilities we observe and the dysfunctions that frustrate us.

The 6 sets of beliefs:

  • Our beliefs about how we should manage & lead people
  • Our beliefs about whether people should think ‘we’ or ‘I’
  • Our beliefs about whether collaboration or competition is desired
  • Our beliefs about whether our business should be flexible or disciplined
  • Our beliefs about whether we should be short-term or long-term oriented
  • Our beliefs about progress and change

The combination of these 6 belief systems form your culture and this is what determines whether you build capability or dysfunction in your organisation. It will explain why your decision-making process is what it is and why your performance management system is loved or hated. It will also provoke your thinking about why strategy is so hard to execute and why customers are core to your business or a pain in the neck.

Would you like to know what your team believes? It will probably explain everything you do and everything that frustrates you!