Is your company culture dysfunctional?

Here’s an idea: no company culture is dysfunctional.

Even though I’m the first one who usually and gladly makes a list of observations about which and how many dysfunctions I encounter when I meet with a new team, I learned to re-frame my approach.

It’s not easy to re-frame the view that all dysfunctions are bad. Truth to be told, and an idea for a follow-up article, I have a sort of Cultural Dysfunctions Bingo™ in my head whenever I start working with a new organization or team.

Being able to spot red flags as early as possibile becomes a badge of honour if you are an organizational consultant, but it’s becomes self-referential very quickly.

“I’ve spotted 15 out of 20 dysfunctions”, now what?

What if dysfunctions are not dysfunctions?

A few ideas brought me to this somewhat counter-intuitive reflection.

One of these ideas comes from the research work on organizations by sociologist Ron Westrum.

He found out that company cultures tend to have three major clusters. None of this is meant to be seen as better than the other. Also, no company has a monolithic culture.

To understand what I mean by “no company has a monolithic culture”, I’ll borrow the idea of culture as climate from Naomi Stanford:

Thinking of organisational culture as climate zone, sub-zone and weather which are interlinked and inseparable means we can recognize and work with local variations. It gives the idea that an organisation does not have a single ‘culture’ but has patterns of culture swirling within a frame. It also suggests that trying to change the culture in the short term may have little impact on the overall patterns in the longer term”

By looking at the table above, I think that we can safely assume that any of us who worked for more than one company can confirm that a single company can have elements of all three of these clusters.

Your company might have some predominant traits, it can be more on the pathological side than the generative one, or have some “custom blends” of these archetypal cultures classified.

Having said that, the second idea that I want to throw in is applying a cost-benefit analysis to the traits of a company culture.

Every behaviour has its benefits, every behaviour has its costs, pros and cons.

That’s what I mean by “no corporate culture is dysfunctional”: your company culture is perfectly functional for reaching a series of benefits.

If so, the questions become: are the benefits clear? Are the benefits that we get through those behaviours enough? Are they in line with the needs and goals that we need to reach? Are these benefits local to the team, or global?

The example above, taken from The Hum’s newsletter, is a quick cost-benefit analysis of a team that describes itself as “being too nice”: there are benefits, there are costs. But there are also need to be addressed that are not being address.

Not everyone is happy about the being-too-niceness of the team.

While, in general, one would say that there’s no such thing as being “too nice”, applying a cost-benefit analysis and some critical thinking let us see beyond the dichotomy of good culture/bad culture.

In closing:

  • Dysfunctions are always functional to something
  • Is this something in line with our needs or not?
  • Do a cost-benefit analysis of your culture frequently

From the field is a series of articles about conversations I have on the field with colleagues, clients and teams

Header photo by Sigmund on Unsplash