Establish your culture as a guiding force

Amy Weitzel
Amy Weitzel

I recently listened to an Adam Grant podcast about an entire organization with no bosses. That’s right: no bosses. It took me a while to wrap my brain around the concept and stop mentally guffawing at the idea of how this business can run — successfully — without a boss. But that’s exactly what Morning Star, a tomato paste company, has done for decades.

It’s an interesting concept, to say the least. How do they do that? The company believes in working to the strengths of its employees, so employees practice job crafting — designing their jobs based on their strengths and values. Each employee also writes their own mission statement each year. When you ask them who their boss is, their reply: “My boss is my mission.” That’s the very function and foundation of culture.

Culture is the guiding force in every organization that describes how work gets done. Sure, bosses provide direction and strategy, but culture is the driving force.

Culture is so much more than a buzzword. No matter what business you go into, you can figure out what their culture is by the way you’re greeted, how workers interact with the public and each other, how problems are solved and how workers feel about the organization. When a strong, positive culture is in place, you can feel it as an outsider stepping in — it’s a tangible thing.

Culture is going to happen no matter what, so good leaders and business owners  work to make sure they establish culture intentionally. Peter Drucker wrote: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You can develop the best strategies. But without culture to back it up, you don’t have a way to steer the ship. Your culture must align with your organizational goals and mission.

Start by creating clearly defined values within the organization. Working from the top down as well as the bottom up to create a direction and sense of ownership will foster a culture that will guide every employee.

I worked recently with a department that had struggled for a while with conflict. Employees needed to rebuild trust and regain a sense of teamwork, so they needed to establish what their values were within their team. Once they found their values, they ran every decision through that set of values — from agenda items for team meetings to how they would handle conflict moving forward. Their values were their guiding force to create trust and rebuild their concept of team.

Conflict is a natural part of any relationship, whether it’s romantic, friendship, family or work. If handled well, conflict isn’t a bad thing. Conflict can promote good ideas, better relationships and a stronger culture. Creating a culture of trust and mutual respect within a team allows healthy conflict to occur. The misconception is that conflict involves yelling and backstabbing. When handled correctly, conflicting ideas and opinions can be brought forth in healthy dialogue, discussed and the best ideas used to help the organization make good decisions. This can only happen, though, when a culture has been established to support healthy conflict.

I’ve seen teams where unhealthy conflict has been present for years. Even after the original parties left, conflict remained the norm. In these cases — and even before this becomes the case — it would help businesses to hire an outside organizational development consultant to help turn the culture around.

A consultant can help teams determine their common values, how they want those values expressed and what behaviors support those values. A consultant can serve as an impartial person to pull differing factions together in conflict resolution to create a single culture aligned toward organizational goals. Once this happens, your organization can attract the right people and find success.

Don’t take culture for granted in your organization. It’s going to be created organically or intentionally. My vote is to always create your culture intentionally. Once you’ve charted your course, then let your culture continue to grow organically.