(2 minute read)

“Organisational culture has direct consequences for success and happiness”

Adam Grant, Organisational Psychologist

We like to highlight and share the stories of great places to work, also referred to as ‘destination organisations’.

In such workplaces and organisations, the culture is conducive to doing great work, while building and reinforcing a sense of camaraderie and collegiality among the staff.

Jenny Chapman, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, University of California at Berkeley, defines corporate culture as; “the values and behavioural norms that one sees expressed within an organisation. It must be a systematic pattern of norms and expectations that people have in a particular setting, that they might not have in another setting.”

Chapman has discovered that a key characteristic about these norms is that there’s no rulebook to teach them. Instead, we learn them through social interactions. They’re different from what is written in the corporate handbook. They’re “observed patterns of behaviour and expectations that we pick up from interacting with colleagues within an organisation.”

Expanding upon the research of Prof’ Chapman, it has been identified that the workplace culture which develops within an organisation is dependent upon how it balances key priorities.

There are 2 fundamental tensions in organisational culture: Results v’s Relationships and Rules v’s Risk

If we ignore one of these values altogether, it can lead to what Adam Grant refers to as the ‘4 Deadly Sins of Organisational Culture’ – toxicity, mediocrity, bureaucracy, and anarchy.

Toxicity occurs when a culture prioritises results at the expense of relationships. Getting things done at the cost of treating people right.

Mediocrity abounds when we value relationships above results. (Beware ‘The Peter Principle’, where everyone is promoted to their level of incompetence, and then get stuck there).

Bureaucracy thrives upon an ‘all rules – no risk’ mindset. New ideas are seen as a threat to the norm. People cling to process and resist change, and red tape is everywhere.

Anarchy arises when risks are taken, but in the absence of rules. Structure and strategy are almost non-existent.

In a recent podcast, Adam Grant reminded listeners that “to have a healthy culture you’ll need to manage the tensions between results vs relationships and rules vs risks really well.”

It’s a matter of achieving the right balance for the business and the people. While taking an extremist approach to life can have its downfalls, it can prove disastrous when it comes to work culture.

(Podcast reference: TED Work Life, Adam Grant)

4 Comments
  1. Jon 1 month ago

    Great stuff as always 👍

    • Author
      Greig Ward 4 weeks ago

      Thanks Jon. We’re you squeezed a couple of useful ideas from this week’s blog. Stay well.

  2. Nina 4 weeks ago

    Reminds me of Goldilocks and the three bears. You need to have the dynamic just right!

    • Author
      Greig Ward 4 weeks ago

      Now that is a great call Nina – and a classic children’s story. Undeniably, getting the balance right continues to be one of the challenges with getting Org’ Culture right.

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