Organizational Culture: Open or Closed?

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Culture in an organization is comprised of shared values, goals, norms and processes. One overarching theme uncovered in studying organizational culture is that leadership creates and reinforces culture. A traditional organization operates in a hierarchical model with an authoritarian culture that seems to foster privacy or secrecy. An open culture is the foundation for creating a high performance organization. An open culture within an organization fosters transparency and accountability to its customers and the public. If management doesn’t have a culture of open communication, then that culture suffers.

One of the best practices of high performance organizations is for leadership to nurture a culture that allows for people to question openly and have honest dialogue. A leader’s beliefs and values create the direction and the boundaries that people need to perform well. In “Good to Great” (2001) Jim Collins asserts, “good-to-great companies built a consistent system with clear constraints, but they also gave people freedom and responsibility within the framework of that system.” This is Policy Governance in a nutshell.

When organizational leaders have an authoritarian culture where people are afraid to question decisions, diverse viewpoints cannot be heard. When people can raise objections when they think they need to, it paves the way to better decision-making. If an organization follows Policy Governance principles, it will find that Policy Governance creates a “safe” way to have meaningful dialogue around an issue (instead of a personality), and largely, reduces organizational barriers to having the dialogue in the first place.

Warren Bennis is a professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business. Bennis cited by Koestenbaum, Keys, and Weirich says, “Exemplary leaders create a climate of candor throughout their organizations. They remove the organizational barriers — and the fear — that cause people to keep bad news from the boss. They understand that those closest to customers usually have the solutions but can do little unless a climate of candor allows problems to be discussed.”

Do I need a professional facilitator?

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Insights into group dynamics are essential to facilitators to successfully accomplish the purpose of the meeting.

Facilitators should have a working knowledge of organizational behavior.

Organizational behavior is the applied discipline of understanding individual behavior in groups, group process and facilitating individuals in groups to work more effectively and efficiently. As a field of study, organizational behavior integrates psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics and political science. As applied in practice, organizational behavior helps facilitators motivate and encourage people in the group to be flexible and innovative as well as work together successfully.

As a facilitator, I need to understand the principles and stages of group development to cultivate effective group process and decision-making. In some situations, the group does not necessarily need to become a team but some teambuilding is advantageous. My strategies for the groups depend on what stage the group is in – forming, norming, storming, or performing (see for more information). In addition, I need to observe group behavior throughout a session in order to create participation.

A facilitator will find it inherently useful to understand the culture within an organization. The organization’s culture is like societal culture and is comprised of a variety of things such as values, beliefs, norms, experiences, attitudes, artifacts (stories, rites and rituals) and patterns of behavior.

Functionally, organizational behavior becomes an organizational control mechanism that informally defines what is acceptable and what is not.

For facilitators, understanding organizational culture provides a powerful level for guiding group behavior. Each organization’s dominant culture is unique and can contain subcultures and countercultures.

As a facilitator I have observed that subgroups often form in a group that’s in the storming stage of development. This state occurs when members of the group find that they like some members but not others. The group is divided into factions. The storming stage is the most difficult stage to facilitate since it is full of tension and emotion. The best approaches I have found in this situation is to surface all the problems (get the “dead moose” off the table), create norms that make it safe to discuss the problems and encourage members to debate in a non-personal way. The worst thing is ignoring the situation, attempting to avert arguments or becoming authoritarian. The group will end up focusing its energy on being dissatisfied with me rather than solving its problems. I need to remain clear that I am not taking the group’s behavior personally and accept that tension is normal.

Again, I most often encounter subcultures or countercultures in groups during the storming stage. When interpersonal aspects overshadow getting the job done, I need to bring people’s attention back to process and help people learn group skills. I need to help the group identify their differences or issues and solve them together. I need to stay neutral and totally calm in order to best facilitate communication in this situation.


I use a number of process tools as a facilitator to create effective communication and feedback in a group.

I use:

The tool that I choose depends on the job at hand and the group’s stage of development.

I am constantly learning about group behaviors, theories of group interactions and group processes.

My personal vision for every group is to integrate the shared commonalities and align the wonderful differences within a group.

In reality, this is not always achievable but a purposeful direction is necessary. If I can at least cultivate a sense of shared group responsibility and move a group toward the collaborative or performing stage, I believe I am successful.