Friday, 22 March 2013

The organisational culture triangle - how the different cultures interact


As promised in my previous post, here is something about how the six organisational cultures of the 'Culture Triangle' can tend to view and interact with each other. It explains the concept of 'Organisational Boxing' and provides some specific approaches and tools that can be used to manage it.

Please read my previous post for descriptions of the six organisational cultures.


Organisational boxing
Each organisational culture has very strong values and preoccupations that are very distinct from one another. These give organisations a strong sense of identity and purpose. They also affect interactions and relationships with other organisations.
The strong values that drive distinct cultural behaviour can lead to organisations ‘boxing’ each other. Boxing in this context has two specific meanings:
  •       The first is that organisations will tend to perceive each other in specific and more or less fixed ways; they will tend to put each other into perceptual boxes. The nature and strength of these perceptual boxes will be based upon assumptions and judgements about the behaviour observed and how it fits or otherwise with preconceptions about certain organisations. For example, if law enforcement organisations are perceived as hierarchical and formal and the observed behaviour confirms this, then the perceptual boxing will be quickly achieved and firmly fixed. If the observed behaviour is mainly contrary to what is expected then the boxing will be less marked. Preconceptions will still exist, but because there is little or no behaviour to support them the boxing will be less defined.
  •       The second, which will be most apparent and problematic when organisational behaviour seems to confirm unhelpful preconceptions, is that organisations from different cultures will tend to ‘put their guards up’ when dealing with each other and be more inclined to ‘fight their own corners’ and work at keeping others in theirs, reacting to the perceived drawbacks and threats of dealing with an ‘opponent’ culture rather than recognising the opportunities that working with a ‘complementary’ culture could provide.
 
How to avoid unhelpful organisational boxing
Given that we all hold preconceptions of one kind or another about most of the people and organisations with which we come into contact, some form of organisational boxing as defined above is almost always inevitable. The key, however, is to avoid the most damaging kind of boxing. This is created when behaviour confirms preconceptions. The following approaches and techniques can be helpful in achieving this:
Adopt a mind set of curiosity: Being curious encourages us to make contact, ask questions and explore, rather than withdraw and make demands from behind our defensive guard.

Edward de Bono’s PMI thinking technique can help us adopt a structured approach to being curious. PMI stands for Positives, Minuses and Interesting. When dealing with other organisational cultures ask questions about: the positives it possesses and how to make good use of them; its minuses and how to minimise them; what is interesting about the culture and how this can be exploited to mutual advantage.
Develop reflexivity: This is the ability to recognise the effect of our behaviour upon others and to alter it as is necessary to achieve better relationships and results.  Force field analysis can help us achieve this:
  • Identify those aspects of your own and others’ behaviour that are driving things forward and helping to improve things.
  • Give each aspect a value according to its significance (1 least significant to 5 most significant).
  • Identify those aspects of your own and others’ behaviour that are holding things back and not helping to improve things.
  • Give each aspect a value according to its significance (1 least significant to 5 most significant).
  • Lastly, identify the actions you can take to maximise the former and minimise the latter.
Create time for informality. Including informal gatherings and meetings in a partnership’s approach and activities can help us get to know the individuals behind the organisational masks.
Once we know people better we are less inclined to box them into preconceived roles or perceive them as generalised types. Instead, we begin to appreciate the knowledge, skills and qualities of the individuals with which we are working. This changes the nature of our working relationships with other organisations (because they become more unique and personal they become more significant and valuable to us) and helps us realise their potential contribution to the achievement of partnership aims.
Use an independent mediator or bridging person to ensure communication is maintained and developed between partners and avoid views, perceptions and positions becoming entrenched.  He or she can act as a trusted sounding board and critical friend to all parties, help facilitate discussions, identify and develop links between organisations and encourage organisations to develop reflexivity.
Pair up individuals from different organisations and cultures and ask them to work on key aspects of the partnership’s activities. Working with someone from a different background with different views helps foster mutual understanding and minimise unhelpful preconceptions. It also lays the foundation for a long-term relationship, based upon meaningful individual ties, that will benefit not only the people concerned but also the partnership as whole.
A good focus for such pair work is evaluation. This is because, as well as concentrating upon the detail of a partnership’s activities, it provides an opportunity to gain a broader, big picture view of its work. This helps people appreciate how the contributions of the organisations involved currently (and potentially could) link up and support each other to achieve a partnership’s goals. This appreciation will help to relax organisational and cultural boundaries and facilitate closer relationships and inter-organisational working.
 


For more about collaboration and partnership go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition.   
 

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