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Culture Works, Part 2 – Do I Belong At Work?


What if I told you that there was a way to transform the organizational culture you have for the culture you want in three easy steps?

I wouldn’t believe that either. My inner skeptic would charge in with a heavy dose of reason and remind me that there is no such thing as “three easy steps” to almost anything; especially not culture.

Culture is complex. It doesn’t just happen and there are very powerful forces at work against thriving culture.

Now, every organization has “culture”. Either it is a purposeful culture or a default culture.

We call default culture the “Shadow Culture”.

Shadow Culture is what exists without intention – it just “is”.

This kind of culture usually shows itself in systems or processes that no longer make sense, but we live them anyway. A shadow culture can be one that prohibits speaking up, pushing back, offering suggestions.

The shadow culture always operates behind the scenes and is very powerful. While the Enron Corporation had a strong stated set of Core Values, its shadow culture of greed was much more powerful and ultimately resulted in the downfall of the company and the loss of thousands of people’s jobs and retirement accounts. It was devastating.

When all the dust had settled and the stories were told, it became quite clear that the shadow culture ruled. More recently we’ve read about and experienced the shadow cultures of United Airlines, Uber and Fox News. Their recent “incidents” are not isolated but are indicators of deep underlying culture issues.

So, while there are not three easy steps, there are three very important ingredients that go into creating a healthy, thriving culture. We believe that people have three innate desires:

1.    The desire to belong
2.    The desire to contribute
3.    The desire to make a difference

The desire to belong is a very powerful one. I can remember back to the early days of elementary school and how badly I wanted to fit in, to belong. In between my 5th and 6th grade year of school we moved. I changed schools and I was devastated. I thought I would never fit in or be accepted in my new school. It felt like a life consigned to the shadows.

We’ve all faced rejection at some point. So, when it comes to creating a thriving organizational culture the first thing to focus on is belonging. Do your people feel like they fit in?

I have been a part of many organizations that had a “feeling like family”. While on the surface this feels right and good, it can also be quite dangerous. With family, either you are a part or you are not. This can be counterproductive to creating a thriving culture.

Instead it helps to think of work as that place “where everyone knows your name”. Our places of work should serve as a place of validation, acceptance, growth, stretching and belonging.
Your coworkers don’t need to be your best friends, but they also should not be your worst enemies.

No one in your workplace or on your team should have to live in the shadows.

Work should not be a dreaded place; we spend most of our lives there. Work should a place that is life giving. And it all starts with a sense of belonging.

Is your organizational culture one of belonging?

Trevor J. Bron is a Culture Architect and Executive Advisor with TAG Consulting. To find out more about Trevor, click here.