Organizational Culture is one of the biggest factors that plays an important role in Organization alignment and enablement. But what is it exactly, and how does it influence our behavior as well as the whole project? This short article will answer those questions.
Firstly, what is culture, and why is it important? According to Fons Trompenaars (1997), Culture is social interactions and the way we interact with each others. According to him, culture of a community is just like “water to a fish”. It’s the environment we are living in and grown up with. Something is considered important in this culture may not have any value in another culture. And this is what makes it important to understand the other culture in international interactions. Maybe you are an excellent employee in your company or even in your country but when you want to work or cooperate with another company that is in an entirely different culture, then it would be another story. Little things such as the way of greetings, the bows, the handshakes, or the distance in communication… could be the factor that make or break the deal.
“A fish only discovers its need for water when it is no longer in it. Our own culture is like water to a fish. It sustains us. We live and breathe through it. What one culture may regard as essential, a certain level of material wealth for example, may not be so vital to other cultures.”Fons Trompenaars, Riding the Waves of Culture (1997)
There are many ways for us to look at culture such as: The relationship and rule-based culture (or the Universal versus the Particular); The Individual and the group-based culture; The specific and the diffuse culture;… each group will have different ways to approach and dealing with situations and therefore the way they understand, see and react would not be the same. Nowadays, with the globalization, you might have a team that combines people from several parts of the country or even around the world. Therefore, it’s important to consider the cultures of your team members. The differences in people’s reaction or communication to each situation therefore could come from different background. They might not mean to “acting weirdly” or “being rude” but they are simply just unaware of the differences.
So, what is Organizational culture? It is a set of factors that guide people’s behaviors and decisions within an organization. Things like shared values, beliefs, assumptions, habits, and language.
And how organizational culture affects projects? The organization’s vision, mission and values shape the organization’s culture. Projects that support the company’s vision are likely to get more attention and resources. When we’re faced with a tricky decision, we can use the mission or values to determine the best thing to do. Leadership and authority are also a big part of organizational culture. If management defines clear goals and then delegates responsibility to employees, that approach might work in projects because there is clear boundary and responsibility. On the other hand, if authority isn’t handed out, we then need to work with management to get things done and work on building trust at the same time.
Another aspect of culture is the organization’s work environment. With a positive environment, people are motivated to get things done. And gathering lessons learned is easy because employees are used to providing input and striving to improve. In a negative environment, we’re probably going to have to spend a lot of time managing our team. Some cultures believe in following the rules no matter what. Other cultures nurture innovation, expecting employees to try new approaches, question what’s been done before, and come up with better methods. You don’t have to follow the rules in a rules-based culture, but if you’re thinking about breaking rules, it’s important to know which ones you can break. And also think about what you’ll do if your approach doesn’t work, does your organization put results ahead of procedures or vice versa? In other words, is it better to follow the rules, even if you don’t achieve the objective, or can you do whatever it takes as long as you deliver the desired results? A project’s goal in a team is always to achieve its objectives. But it’s important to know where the boundaries are in making things happen.
In Inglourious Basterds (2009), the film tells an alternate history story of two plots to assassinate Nazi Germany’s leadership. One high level British spy blowing his cover with just a simple hand gesture which cause his life and many others. The scene emphasizes the importance of understanding culture and behavior of a people during that time, especially when you are in such position. In real life, it’s no longer as extreme as it was back then but believe it or not, culture is still an important factor that influence our behavior as well as the way we see and understand and interact with the other. When encountering a new place or situation, we tend to compare it to the things that we are familiar with. As a manager, it’s always a plus if we have an overview of the team member background, the environment they come from or their personality type. Not only for better understanding the others, but also because culture will have a strong influence on how things happen within projects and how decisions are made. Therefore, to increase your success, you need to taking cultural factors into account when manage your projects.