Skip to main content
Organizational Culture in Change Circles

How to work with Organizational Culture in Change Circles

  • 06 October 2016
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

In my last post, we identified four strategies of organizational change. Today, we'll take a look at strategies 3 and 4: to engage people and to personally embody the change.  As discussed, organizational change has to start where people are: we depart from the (potentially blocking) current culture. Next, we let people develop their change plan including an empowering, positive culture with new behaviors.

How exactly do we use the viscosity of culture where people copy each other - so that they preferably copy the new behaviors and really change? Let’s take a look at the culture change process I use - starting with the OCAI culture survey and continued in OCAI Workshops or Change Circles.

Culture Change Circles, or an OCAI workshop

  1. Assess the current and preferred culture with the OCAI survey
  2. Understand the quantified, visual profile
  3. Elaborate on current culture by adding qualitative information: behaviors, examples
  4. Raise engagement and awareness, and create consensus
  5. Assess the future, and the current strategy, to see where we need to go
  6. Elaborate on and customize the preferred culture to thrive in this future.
  7. Develop this new culture, from values down to behavior and outcomes. Develop and deploy a How-to-change plan with your Change Circle that people agree on, and that they commit to doing. People also commit to supporting each other and to seeing it through.

Step 1 Assessment of Current and Preferred Culture

We assess culture because it makes the difference to successful organizational change and we need to know our point of departure. I use Cameron & Quinn’s Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI) and the Competing Values Framework.

Step 2 Understand the Quantified Culture Profiles

Time to understand the outcome of the assessment with the OCAI tool: what do the current and preferred culture profile look like? Which culture types are dominant and how deeply rooted are they? How big is the gap between current and preferred culture? What’s the readiness for change, apparently?

Step 3 Elaborate on Current Culture with Qualitative Information

Let’s do an OCAI workshop and get together in a Change Circle of 10 coworkers, maximum. It’s exciting when participants have a dialogue about the outcome and add qualitative information to the quantitative profile. To better understand their current culture, from values down to everyday business behaviors - they gather lists of typical beliefs, behaviors, examples, incidents, stories, sayings, jokes, artifacts, and so on. In addition to the 2D map, they explore the actual 3D territory. By doing so, people get a shared understanding of where they Are (point A).

Step 4 Raise Awareness, Consensus, and Engagement to Change

In the workshop, participants become aware of where we Are and where we want to Be. The Change Circle is a way to engage people in contributing to the organization. To share their expectations, ideas, improvements, objections, and solutions. To become more aware of this organizational system. To reach consensus about what is needed. To take ownership of their work and the changes the organization needs. To use their potential and empower themselves. To take action, together, with support from each other. And finally, to develop positive, lasting change.

The circle is a structure that helps people change and persist over time – thus contributing to successful change. Everyone takes ownership of their personal change aligned with the collective change or learning. The members, together, are the organizational system.

The CEO can’t do it alone. The consultant can’t make it happen either. Change is a collective endeavor. You need the majority to change a few key personal behaviors that will make a difference to the whole organizational system, or you won’t achieve successful organizational change.

To truly engage people, the workshop or Change Circle must establish a safe space to open up, exchange, learn, and explore. This is a craft that can be learned and Change Circles benefit from a few conditions. In this earlier blog post about dialogue in Change Circles, I explore some of them.

It’s vital that the change circles are small so everyone is visible and will be more inclined to participate, instead of leaning back and criticizing the change in the back row of a large auditorium. For many people, small groups feel safer as well. But most importantly, the facilitator must create a space that fosters true dialogue. The difference between Downloading, Debate, and Dialogue as ways of interacting are discussed in this earlier blog post as well. 

If you want to read more about the process of using change circles based on culture and positive leadership you may like my eBook How to lead Positive Change with Culture and Positive Leadership.

Step 5 Assess the future, the strategy, and the needed culture

After understanding our current culture, from values and beliefs down to the level of behaviors, we explore the future and where we want to Be (point B).

  • Why is it necessary to change now, and in what direction?
  • What challenges and opportunities do we expect in the future?
  • What is our organization’s strategy and goals?
  • Which culture type would we ideally need to be successful in this expected future, following our strategy and aiming for our goals?
  • Should we adjust the preferred culture profile from the OCAI-survey?

Let’s assess this again, now that we did a fresh “scan of the future” and see if we need to change anything? Can we create a consensus of our preferred culture?

Step 6 Customize and Elaborate on Preferred Culture

Maybe we need to adjust the preferred culture profile from the OCAI-survey. Now that we know our preferred culture let’s develop it from values down to everyday business behaviors - we’ll create lists of typical beliefs, behaviors, examples, incidents, stories, sayings, jokes, artifacts, and so on, that will be real in the new culture. We’ll even try to define the dilemmas that we expect and how to act.

For instance: “We want to become more innovative and not stifle new initiatives and wait for permission - but we don’t want to take uncontrollable risks or waste too many resources experimenting.” The group can define behaviors to solve this dilemma: “In the new culture, people are free to experiment without permission for a maximum of X hours and Y dollars before they take their initiative to the project committee that will assess how to continue.” By doing so, people get a shared and pragmatic, detailed understanding of where they want to Be (point B).

Step 7 Develop and deploy a How-to-change plan with your Change Circle

Now you know What you want, next is the magical How. This is where you puzzle to find out what works in your system and what doesn’t. The dialogue explores many questions, such as:

  • How do we actually get from A to B, knowing ourselves?
  • How do we change, now that we agree on our preferred future and culture?
  • What dilemmas do we expect?
  • What exactly will every one of us do next?
  • What will we stop, what will we do more of, what conditions do we need to create?
  • How will we support each other?
  • How do we carry on when we get tired or start to doubt?
  • What roadblocks can we expect?
  • How will we leverage the positive energizers in our team and our organization, and so on?

This is customized for each organizational system. This is the part where situational intelligence is necessary because no off-the-shelf, generic advice covers your unique situation. This is the work that cannot be outsourced: find out what will make a difference in your organizational system. What will lead to successful, lasting, positive change? Though there is no fixed recipe, there are tools to help solve this puzzle of whole system change.

This puzzle part yields the most fun - and often some frustration. Not everything can be planned in detail. The journey might be beyond logic at times, full of emergent developments, and it will require mindful adjustments to get where you want to Be.

But what a journey this will be! It is Organization Development in action, supported by the vehicle of many pragmatic, ongoing Change Circles within one organization where people adjust plans, practice new behaviors, copy, and coach each other, and co-create successful change. Step 8 can consist of ongoing, regular change circles as a vehicle to stay on course and prepare the next change…. This way, people learn how to deal with continuous change at work.

In the 3-day Culture Change Leadership workshop, based on my book Organizational Culture Change, we’ll learn how to:

  • Diagnose and change culture with a validated approach to change,
  • Engage coworkers and have them take ownership,
  • Utilize everyone’s energy and ideas,
  • Guide Change Circles with Positive Leadership
  • Work with positive energizers and change agents,
  • Become aware of resistance and assess satisfaction
  • Align mission and values with performance, strategy and behaviors,
  • Align different departments and the board with the shop floor.
  • Relate the MBTI personality test and management styles to culture types
  • Conduct workshops and truly engage your organization, team by team...

Do you want to learn and practice to guide successful change with Culture Change Circles? Attend the next open workshops - I hope to see you there! Or learn more and read my eBook: How to lead Positive Change with Culture and Positive Leadership. This eBook discusses my Change Circle Approach.

In my next post, I’ll share a case where I work with a University Library. Join me as I guide their OCAI-workshop. This will give you a better look and feel of the seven steps I shared above.

I am always open to hearing your comments and questions.

  • What is your takeaway from the above?
  • What would or would not work in your (client’s) organization?
  • What suits your personality?
  • What would you have doubts about?

Copyright © Marcella Bremer 2016. All rights reserved.