The Building Blocks of Organizational Culture

Jack Cohen
2 min readMar 26, 2018

“When critics get together, they talk about aesthetics; when artists get together, they talk about turpentine.” –Picasso

Enough with the wishy-washy conversations about organizational culture; if you are reading this, you probably have a hunch that culture is important, so let’s get concrete. If we want to talk about building culture, we need to know what the building blocks are. The absence of this vocabulary is one of the main contributors to the nebulous and unproductive conversations that typically color this domain. It’s not the free lunch, the ropes course, the ping-pong table, or the swag (stuff we all get). Culture is far more fundamental and pervasive than all that. Why is there so much attention, then, on the free lunch, etc? Because it is tangible. It is time to make culture just as tangible.

The following 8 building blocks are foundational to organizational culture. I have separated them into 3 categories. Click the link to read that section.

Who We Are

1. Vision & Values

What We Do (as a group)

2. Decision-Making Processes

3. Feedback Systems

4. Meetings

5. Hiring & Onboarding

6. Team: Structures & Management

What We Each Do (as individuals)

7. Mastering Your Work: Self-Management (Peaceful Productivity)

8. Mastering Your Work with Others: Communication & Constructive Conflict

A cathedral is a pile of concrete blocks that, when it takes a certain shape, we call a cathedral. The same might be said for a prison. Culture works the same way; we can think of it as the aggregate of, and interaction between, the actions and assumptions in each of these building blocks. When looking at culture through the lens of these concrete building blocks, it is easier to see how culture drives organizational performance and learning (and to build a cathedral instead of a prison).

For each building block, I will articulate:

· Key Questions & Overview

· Research

· Examples in practice

One construction plan that supports a cohesive culture and identity is to start with Vision & Values and proceed in order, but the beauty is that, since they are all interdependent pieces and culture building is an iterative process, you can shape and shift your culture by beginning with any of one of the building blocks.

If you have already navigated these building blocks with your team, please share your learnings (from success or failure) in the comments section below. If this is a conversation you are navigating with your team and think you could benefit from support, reach out to the Brain-Based Workplace:

Click for:

Part 1: Vision & Values

Part 2: Decision-Making & Feedback

Part 3: Meetings, Hiring/Onboarding, and Team Structures & Management

Part 4: Masterful Self-Management and Communication & Conflict Resolution



Jack Cohen

Voracious learner applying evidence-based insights to help values-driven workplaces. Founder, Brain-Based Workplace, LLC.