What’s culture got to do with me?

In March I was a guest presenter at Team Management System Development International (TMSDI) network member forum. I was speaking about culture and the Team Management Profile. Personal culture has always been something that I am cognoscente of in everything that I do. Why? As I describe myself as an inside-outsider. I am British, but was born in the USA, am Asian with East African heritage. Growing up in more of an Eastern cultural context at home, meant adapting and flexing at school. I appreciate that many people have this inside-outside experience. Moving from Scotland to England, growing up in a household that communicates via British Sign Language being part of both hearing and Deaf communities or anything in-between.

Role of culture in the workplace

You may think culture is something personal that people should keep to themselves. However, this isn’t really possible, as it forms part of who we are. Culture is something we all have, whether we know and appreciate it or not. Being part of the “mainstream” culture wherever you are located is not neutral. It may be the dominant, prevailing way that things are done, but it will have distinctive features. It may not be apparent to you unless you have the opportunity to reflect on it, but it is there.

One definition of culture from the Oxford English Dictionary from 2017 is

“The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society”.

This is a helpful working definition, but it is much more than this is overlaid on top of organisational culture, it becomes very rich indeed. When delivering programmes on leadership and progression, I will often hear delegates say, it’s hard to progress as my “face doesn’t fit”. A way of exploring what this is to establish what the organisational or team norms and how personal culture intersects with this.  Understanding cultural capital and knowledge as a strength is essential to leveraging this in the workplace. This is the underpinning tenet of using this tacit knowledge for progression.

Questions for reflection

Some quick questions to begin reflecting on the workplace and your culture:

  1. What are the three words you would use to describe your organisational culture?
  2. What are the key aspects of your personal culture? This could link to where you grew up, friends, family, languages you speak, the school you went to etc .
  3. Are there certain colleagues you get on better with?
  4. Is their culture akin to yours?
  5. What could you do to expand your cultural knowledge in the workplace?

By understanding culture and applying the theories in training programmes and leadership development, this aids empathy and can reduce conflict. Why people behave the way they do, what it means and why we find this so alien. The fabulous Mark Gilroy of TMSDI Ltd said to me, we celebrate our work preferences or MBTI type indicators, so why not our culture? Good question, it’s about time- wouldn’t you say?

As always do let me know what you do in your workplace in this areas by commenting.