By Charles Bezerra. Fundamentally, everything that an organization does or produces is an output of its culture. However, we rarely think that way. We generally think that it is the process, the technology and the structures that are responsible for creating the outputs – not people, not culture. Innovation could equally be seen as a product of culture – as concentrated organization culture. We know that at its best, a healthy organizational culture is capable of making innovation spontaneous, almost effortless. On the other hand, a sick organizational culture can have the best processes and technology but is not able to survive for too long – it destructs itself. In really tough competitions, successful teams often win because their culture – because the whole is more adaptable to overcome the dynamic interactions with the other teams – rather than because only one or two players is capable of systematically making the difference. And, when a team acts as having a group consciousness, as one mind, it becomes pure magic – like Brazil’s soccer in ‘82 or Chicago Bulls in the 90s.
However, it’s not easy to act at the cultural level. And many companies struggle in this attempt. Culture implies living in diversity. It is diversity that brings robustness. Any form of elitism is dangerous when we are at the cultural level, because when the context changes – and it always does – having only one approach weakens the whole. So when it comes to the culture of an organization, a diversity of opinions is something to be welcomed and celebrated. As a society of minds, culture also implies exchange, the capability to listen others, and, most importantly, to listen to criticism—which is something most leaders are not used to do. When a different opinion is not shared in a meeting, because the boss is in the room or because an employee doesn’t want to break the “alignment”, it inevitably will come up again. And depending where it shows up, it can become a big obstacle to any action be accomplished.
But trust is the most fundamental ingredient to any successful culture. The effort of creating and maintaining trusting relationships at all levels in an organization is probably the greatest and most important task for the leaders. A common approach used by Indigenous groups is to sit in a circle to discuss issues, where they respect and listen each other with their mind and hearts – a type of free dialogue where sometimes a stick or a feather is passed to give authority to whoever is speaking. And then, when the circle is complete, everybody seems to know what to do knows how to proceed. Many times companies face enormous obstacles to implement their strategy not because they don’t have the right resources, technology or the right process but simply because two or tree people are unable to sit and communicate. The factions they represent then go in their own directions instead of working as one organism.
A simple and effective technique companies could use to start a transformation in culture is just to credit those with the courage to report their mistakes – not credit the mistakes, of course, but credit the courage to report mistakes and the lessons learned from them. Everybody makes mistakes, and learning from those mistakes is what makes an organism – a culture – evolve. This also signals that the organization is interested in the truth, not in the illusion that everybody does everything right all the time.
This might sound too abstract, and it’s definably not in the current toolbox of business. But the reality is that when a customer uses a service or buys a product, what she or he is really buying is a symbol, a product, of a culture.