We love to think that our organization has one culture — a single vision and belief system that powers the entire organization.
In reality, though, that not entirely true.
What is undoubtedly true is that every organization is made up of microcultures — small groups of human beings with a common purpose — many of which we overlook or simply cannot see.
You see, org charts are based on financial models, and tend to track which cost centre pays your wage rather than which individuals you actually engage with.
Our org charts do a really good job of helping us identify the marketing department, the football department, and the executive committee, but they fail to capture the microcultures that actually make up our day-to-day activities.
What about the sports psychologist, athlete, and operations assistant who are helping to work through the athlete’s highly-public divorce?
What about the Punjabi software developers who gather in the break room every morning to talk about their common love of cricket?
What about the university friends who work on different floors but can often be heard shrieking with laughter as they go to lunch together?
(What about the right back and the right midfielder?)
These are all extraordinarily common versions of microcultures — small groups of human beings with a common purpose — and have their own language, expectations, and sets of behaviours.
While these microcultures may all be pulling towards an ultimate goal (winning, maximizing profit, changing the world), each groups does have unique characteristics that may not always align to the common values.
The thing is, organizations spend an innumerable amount of time and energy deliberately trying to bust up microcultures, which are often seen as a threat to productivity or the existing power structure.
We’d much prefer everyone just act in a uniform way…because that’s culture, right?
I’ve been guilty of trying to break up microcultures on my team, and have tried to separate players who play club football together by encouraging them to eat dinner and ride the bus with players from different clubs.
But what if we began to look at these microcultures as a source of strength, and worked to harness them rather than tear them apart?
What if we encouraged the Spanish speakers or the University of Western Ontario alumni to not just mingle in the tea room, but to solve problems together. Or, what if we helped them find new problems we’d overlooked because of our siloed mentality?
As we’re beginning to realize through cohesion analytics, common backgrounds and time spent working together in the same environment are factors that can drive increased performance in areas like sports and music. (Just look at how many of the world’s top-selling bands went to the same school at the same time).
With this in mind, perhaps I’m better served letting my players ride the bus with their club teammates and finding new and different ways to cultivate the over-arching culture.
I want my players to double down on their individual strengths rather than fix their weaknesses, so if I see the microcultures as a strength then I should also be working to double down on them.
Whatever your role, I urge you to consider just how many microcultures exist within your organization.
Who, formally or informally, engages on a day-to-day basis, and are you spending your time trying to break those human bonds, or harness them?