Australia has just elected their 5th prime minister in as many years. Why? Not because of a freakishly short election cycle. Nope. These leaders are being torn down and turfed out by their own parties. Votes of no-confidence, insurgency – however you frame it, there’s something going down in the culture of these parties that promotes in-fighting and dissent over unity and finding ways to work productively together.
This culture is eating them alive. Vision, strategy, execution – the pillars our businesses are built on all hinge on one thing: Focus. And nothing disrupts focus like a culture that promotes upheaval, political game-playing and in-fighting.
Our organisational culture is a by-product of the values we choose to amplify and encourage in our teams. There’s no “good” culture vs “bad” culture – there’s only productive vs unproductive.
You can have a culture that’s fiercely competitive, promotes a high level of autonomy and still supports people to be productive and focussed. Conversely, you can build a culture that’s really supportive, all about close collaboration and also super productive and focussed. The key is unity. Everyone being aligned with each other and the organisation – sharing the same core values, while still bringing their diverse perspectives and strengths to the table.
When employees (or for that matter, party members) aren’t aligned on the core stuff, your culture’s framework starts to fall over. Trust breaks down, suspicion runs rampant and the environment becomes combative. Ultimately this leads to a dysfunctional culture that can really damage your business.
We see this happen in the corporate world periodically – most recently with the fall of Theranos.
So how to avoid this kind of culture-breakdown?
The three key elements in organisations with a productive, healthy culture:
1. Pre-vetting candidates for values alignment
Make sure the people you bring into the organisation hold the values that support the culture you’re building. If you want to grow a competitive, highly independent, energetic environment, look for people who say, value winning, but also care deeply about integrity. You’re looking for combinations of values that’ll protect people from descending into antisocial behaviour and pulling your culture with them. Integrating tools like Weirdly into your recruitment process can help with this step.
2. Uniting behind a strong leader
This is a tricky as it’s a balance between having a leader who inspires confidence and having a culture that supports the leader to lead. It’s a tricky equation that often includes weighing internal disagreements against the larger goals for the organisation. A great leader will at times make decisions in the name of the larger company goals and strategies that feel uncomfortable for members of the organisation. A great culture will allow this conflict to be managed in a productive, mature way.
3. A brutally honest assessment of cultural values
Anyone who has done any kind of honest self awareness work knows assessing your personal values can be a challenging process. It can be even harder as a business. But if you don’t genuinely, authentically recognise the values and culture you’re embracing in your organisation – especially the ones that you feel uncomfortable with -, there’s no room to celebrate or change them. Think about what behaviours you reward or incentivise, and which ones you discourage. That’s the start point for honestly defining the values your culture is built on.
Is your culture in danger of eating you from the inside? Or is it looking pretty healthy and you’re keen to keep it that way?