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Organizational culture revealed in meetings

Organizational culture revealed in meetings

  • 15 February 2016
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

Have you ever considered changing corporate culture in and through meetings? It may be an easy starting point after doing the OCAI culture survey. Every place where people get together, interventions are visible and will thus influence group dynamics and behaviors. Your OCAI culture profile may help you see what to change.

Organizational culture permeates the whole organizational system. You can see it reflected in its strategic choices, its procedures and its appraisal system – its buildings, its customer service, the way it goes about hiring and coaching employees, develops new products and services, and so on.

Even though the OCAI culture survey provides a great 2-dimensional “map” of the culture, to influence culture, you have to travel through the actual, 3-dimensional terrain. You’ll have to find the difference that makes the difference to this culture: the daily details, the specific behaviors, and events that characterize this particular organizational system.

Small behaviors – big archetypes

In a system, its parts reflect the whole. Every drop represents the ocean. Every culture “system” is developed and sustained where people get together: they copy each other (aware or not), correct one another (jokingly or seriously) and coach anyone who doesn’t quite fit in. The behaviors represent its culture.

Every culture archetype has its typical expression in a particular organization that you can observe in meetings. It’s interesting to find out how abstract, archetypical values are expressed in small behaviors when people get together. You can start to change the culture in and through meetings. Every place where people get together, interventions are effective because they are so visible and will thus influence group dynamics and behaviors.

Let me share a few questions and clues with you, based on the many culture workshops I have guided with client organizations.

Why are there meetings?

Many corporate meetings can be seen as rituals. They are just part of corporate life, just like the structure with its formal positions. Often, the real decisions are made in the hallways, at the coffee machine or in small one-on-one meetings. The work is done elsewhere, but people attend this meeting theater nevertheless.

Observe and ask why people attend meetings. Because they have to? Because they feel important and part of the in-crowd when they do? Because they learn of new information, formal or social? Because they can influence important decisions? Because it matters to be seen by the boss? To get your points across? Or to listen and learn?

Theoretically, there are three reasons to meet: to exchange information (even though you can exchange information in a more efficient way than by meeting in person), to explore a topic further and form an opinion (debate, discussion, or dialogue), and to decide on a topic (top-down, vote, or consensus).

Meeting schedule

How often are meetings held, and with whom? Is it a standard circus, like the bi-weekly team meeting, scheduled for with an iron format? Or are meetings incidentally convened when issues need to be explored and decided upon? Who is included, who is excluded, and on what reasoning? How long are meetings to be? Quick and standing, or tediously long while hanging in your chair?

Meeting chairperson?

Who leads the meeting? Is there shared meeting chairmanship? Who sets the agenda? Do you need to prepare by reading tons of documents in advance? Or do you get a short presentation and you’re ready to discuss the topic? Are people on time? Is it the boss who leaves everyone waiting? Are late-comers accepted? Are they corrected?

Meeting behaviors?

Who talks a long time – and who is silent? Who gets the most attention? Who gets their way when it comes to decision-making? Do you see debate (clashing egos), discussion (more rational pros and cons, thinking apart) or dialogue (collaborative exploration, building on what others say, thinking together)? Who is checking out and reading email on their smartphone? Who gets away with what? With not engaging, not being prepared, with taking all the speech time, with not listening, with ridiculing, mocking, reprimanding?

Do people give constructive feedback or do they hide? Do they dare to play “devil’s advocate” and question the status quo or what seems normal? Or are they complacent? Too nice? Are people focusing on the content or behaviors/communication styles? Do they directly confront each other or feign harmony while gossiping after the meeting or sabotaging decisions made?

Do you get the idea? What appears as an ordinary meeting is an example of current culture, reflecting individual personalities and preferences, but also culture. What is normal in this organization? What is the way we do things around here? Who is present and what do they contribute and how? Who gets away with what? Who is higher in rank judging from their meeting behaviors?

Meetings and culture types

The adhocracy culture is a dynamic, entrepreneurial culture where people value creation, innovation, learning, doing things first, experimenting. You may not find regular meeting schedules with formalized agendas but incidental, spontaneous gatherings. People tend to challenge each other’s ideas. Styles may vary from healthy discussion to fierce debate.

Do you want to enhance the adhocracy culture type? Be creative and introduce meeting habits such as a rotating chairperson role, talking stick that prevents people from interrupting each other but gives everyone air time, a rotating devil’s advocate role (to challenge ideas and spice up dialogue), asking people to bring at least three new ideas to the table, etc.

The clan culture is a friendly, people-oriented culture where people value collaboration and participation; doing things together, developing yourself, feeling valued and belonging to the group. You may find habitual meetings that tend to be rituals because people value harmony on the surface and like to keep it “nice and friendly.” Some people may attend but stay silent. Or you might see sincere connections and participation, depending on the type of clan culture.

Do you want to enhance the clan culture type? Introduce meeting habits such as: talking stick that prevents people from interrupting each other but gives everyone air time (participation!), start the meeting with sharing one compliment for someone you appreciate and why (in their face), or: before criticizing an idea – you have to find one way in which it could work or one aspect of this idea that you value (convergence and matching instead of mismatching and divergence), etc.

The hierarchy culture values a formalized, clear, structured workplace where people value clarity, rules, reliability, efficiency, positions and doing things the right way. They like to plan and control. You may attend formalized, ritualized meetings where the bosses speak and the agenda is closely followed. Leaving the real elephant in the room unnoticed because it’s not on the agenda. Attendance may be a status symbol. Or, the meeting is strictly functional and to-the-point – really efficient.

Do you want to enhance the hierarchy culture type? Introduce meeting habits such as a well-skilled chairperson who maintains order and interrupts chaotic or off-topic discussions, keeping the time to start and end and following the formal agenda, creating an action list where people are assigned tasks and accountability, creating clear minutes of the meeting.

The market culture is a results-oriented culture where people don’t shun competition, and like doing things the best they can, getting things done and doing the right things – according to the market and customers.

Do you want to enhance the market culture type? Introduce meeting habits such as: keep the time to start and end sacred, follow the formal agenda but keep the result in mind, focus on closure/getting things done, interrupt chaotic or off-topic discussions. Challenge people to challenge each other’s ideas. Start the meeting with sharing a successful achievement since the last meeting, etc.

The outcome of an OCAI culture change workshop may be a long list of things to change, interventions to do; a journey to follow to get near the preferred culture. One of the smallest and easiest things to do is look at your organization’s meetings – and see if change is needed in how people behave when they meet, check the why and how of the meetings, the schedule, who is included and excluded, who gets to decide what, and so on. Small actions can bring about big changes…

If you want to use the OCAI survey, simply start with the free OCAI One option.

Copyright Marcella Bremer