Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Video: More Fun with Edgar Schein

This short video of an interview with Edgar Schein captures the essence of the points in my last post. You've heard me rave about him. Now listen for yourself!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Avoiding Subculture Collisions on the Organization Superhighway

A key theme from my evening with Edgar Schein has continued to provoke my pondering: managing the interactions of subcultures across organizations.

Beyond the overarching culture of an organization, groups of individuals are further influenced by the presence of subcultures. These might be ethnic cultures in a global organization or perhaps cultures of differing business units, e.g. sales and engineering. The main challenge for organizations today is not merely designing and sustaining a company-wide culture but effectively managing the interaction of disparate subcultures.  When cultures collide, cohesion, performance and strategy execution are at risk.

I believe that the same principles for fostering effective communication across ethnic cultures can help us mitigate the consequences of subculture collisions. Reflecting on Schein’s insights, I’m offering five steps toward effectively working across subcultures in your organization.

1. Initiate Inquiry
In Schein’s terms, take an approach of “humble inquiry”. Embody a curious spirit – ask questions while refraining from judgment. Questions like “Why?”, “When you say ___, what exactly do you mean?” or “What are you trying to achieve?” can illuminate the intention behind your counterpart’s actions.

2. Uncover Assumptions
As insight on the motivations and assumptions of others grows, turn the questions back on yourself. Identify and examine the assumptions you are bringing to the conversation.  What goals, factors, values and objectives are you taking for granted? How do you see the world differently than those in other sub-cultures?

3. Explicate Meaning
Statements such as “customer satisfaction is the top priority” can mean one thing to an engineer and something entirely different to someone in sales. This is often the source of much tension -- individuals mistakenly think they are in agreement when they're expressing two different ideas. Thus, get as granular and descriptive as possible in expressing your meaning and perspective to ensure shared understanding.

4. Exhibit Empathy
As assumptions surface, put yourself in your colleagues' shoes and strive to think from their perspectives. What are the forces at work in their subcultures? How might those forces influence behavior, motivation and goals? How might actions be interpreted differently through that cultural lens? Rather than jump to conclusions, examine the situation from other perspectives to foster effective communication.

5. Unify Visions
Once questions are asked, assumptions have surfaced, meanings have been confirmed and differing perspectives have been considered, it's time to aim for agreement. Articulate goals and values upon which you can agree -- and ensure the language used in your shared vision is descriptive and mutually understood.

Perhaps the best company-wide culture an organization can create is one that allows for those competencies to rise up. In cultures where inquiry and empathy are valued, the consequences of subculture collision can be minimized.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

An Evening with Edgar Schein

My evening with Edgar Schein left me in awe. I met the father of corporate culture. How surreal.

Where would we be as organizations without the powerful insights Schein has brought to the conversation over the years? Where would I be as an individual without the concept of company culture, the core area of my work? It’s simply an honor to have heard him speak at this week’s Organization Development Network Chicago meeting.

Schein is attributed with coining the term "corporate culture" and widely known in the field for his model denoting three levels of organizational culture.

The three layers -- artifacts, espoused values and underlying assumptions -- play critical roles in how leaders can manage and sustain cultures of high performance.

  • Artifacts essentially constitute the processes and systems in place, illustrating the need to consider desired workplace culture in the design of new initiatives, policies and procedures. Ultimately every new initiative or artifact will shape your culture -- so if they are not intentionally designed to support your desired culture, they quite possibly will undermine it.
  • Espoused values include the traits that typically come to mind when you think of culture -- for example values of honesty, innovation and integrity. Moreover, the strategies leadership communicates, and the goals and objectives it defines also feed into the values layer of culture. It is vital for leaders to strategically communicate goals and strategies in a manner that aligns with the desired values and culture of the company. Contradiction in these core messages can lead to a culture of confusion and dysfunction.  
  • Underlying assumptions is perhaps the most sneaky layer of the three. It can cause trouble in times of change if not given proper attention. Assumptions are our patterns of thought that give rise to behaviors and preferences. These are often unarticulated -- and since we don't realize we hold these assumptions, conflict can rise up when we encounter those who don't share these perspectives.

This model is multi-faceted and profound. I've shared only a few brief insights that stem from it, but there is so much more meaning to consider and explore. Thank you Dr. Schein for all the wisdom you've contributed to the field of organizational behavior and to my own learning and pursuits!

My Shelfari Bookshelf

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog