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Friday 29 March 2013

Opposed cultures and bridging cultures

Opposed cultures and bridging cultures

This post continues to examine the dynamics of the 'Culture Triangle'. See earlier posts for an explanation of the six cultures and additional information about how they perceive and behave towards each other.

Opposed cultures
As implied by their positions at opposing corners of the triangle, some cultures can have a strong tendency to come into conflict. These are the political, passionate and expert cultures. Like natural enemies in the wild, they can circle each other warily and if sufficiently provoked they can even attack each other viciously. Alternatively, they can retreat into their corners, snarling and baring their organisation's sharpest teeth to ward off unwelcome encroachments upon their territory. 
The above, sometimes violent, oppositions are caused by the conflicting first instincts the cultures demonstrate in response to any significant activity, initiative or project that gains their attention: 
  • The first instinct of those from political cultures is to look inward at their internal relationships and dynamics, and they will judge any activity, initiative or project in terms of how it could affect these relationships. Will it deliver the results that the key players in their organisation expect? Will it improve their own credibility and standing within the organisation? Will they be able to use their involvement in it and the results it achieves to enhance their power and influence within their organisations? For example, a professional politician will judge any initiative or project in terms of how consistent it is with their previously stated views and the policies of their party. They will also be extremely mindful of whether or not involvement in a project is likely to enhance their credibility and influence with the party’s power brokers. This is why politicians sometimes make choices or do things that are unpopular with the public. For the most part it is the party and its grandees that can assure a politician’s professional future, not the general voting public.
  • The first instinct of those from passionate cultures is to look outward towards the areas and people they wish to help, and they will judge any activity, initiative or project in terms of how effective it is in enabling them to do this. Will it deliver the results that are really needed by people? Will it make the best possible difference to people’s lives or whatever else is the focus of the activity? Will it enhance their ability to carry on with and develop their work? For example, when a partnership was formed to prepare and deliver a pilot for providing digital hearing aids on the NHS, the key focus of the charitable institutions involved was to produce the maximum amount of aids for the minimum price, so doing the most good for the most people.  Other considerations such as procurement and contractual obligations, although important, did not figure quite so highly in their thinking.
  • The first instinct of those from expert cultures is to gain and apply knowledge and expertise, and they will judge any activity, initiative or project in terms of how effective it is in enabling them to do this. What new knowledge and experience will they gain from a project? How can they most effectively apply their existing knowledge, skills and expertise to an initiative? What have they used elsewhere that could be adapted to the new situation or problem before them? For example, high technology companies in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries help to set up biotechnology and bio science parks in partnership with NHS hospitals because it provides them with opportunities to gain valuable information about the local population, apply their high level specialist knowledge and skills in a practical setting, and perhaps find out if something that has worked in one environment will work in another. 
The above differences in perception and judgement can lead to those from different cultures pulling and tugging an initiative in painfully different directions. This can lead to it being violently dismembered into rough, unequal parts, with people fighting over what they consider to be the choicest bits: those that will suit their organisations’ tastes and, more importantly, appetites.
For example, a town centre development became bogged down and endangered because the private developers (if not exactly political then at least entrepreneurial in culture) wanted to maximise their profit by building a significant number of private flats, whilst others representing the local community (definitely passionate in culture) were pulling the development in the direction of improved public amenities, services and social housing. The differences were eventually overcome when the protagonists stopped pulling in separate directions and began seeking imaginative solutions that would meet the needs of developers and the local community alike.

Bridging cultures
The cultures positioned at other points of the triangle can, if necessary, act as bridges between the above opposed cultures.
The strongest ‘bridging culture’ is the pragmatic culture. It can act as a three way bridge connecting the three opposed cultures. Pragmatic cultures are very aware of their environment and, when there is a practical reason for doing so, they are willing to engage with most of its aspects. When necessary, they will acknowledge the importance of political activity, engage with it and even initiate it. They also exhibit similar attitudes and involvement with regard to community engagement and support (a passionate culture interest) and acquiring and applying expert knowledge (an expert culture interest).
If organisations involved in collaborative projects seem frequently at loggerheads, it could be because there is an absence of people from pragmatic cultures. Inviting such people into the project (they tend to come primarily from service and financial organisations) is likely to provide practical insights and ideas that could help bridge the differences between the three opposed cultures.
The artistic and functional cultures can also build bridges towards other cultures. They can provide single bridges between the political and passionate and political and expert cultures respectively.
The artistic culture can have both an inward and an outward focus. People from this culture tend to focus upon not only their personal needs and development and how to achieve them (a link with political cultures), but also where their artistic activities can make a meaningful contribution (a link with passionate cultures). This means they are likely  to contribute perspectives and ideas that can create bridges of understanding between political and passionate cultures.
The functional culture can also have both an inward and an outward focus. People from this culture are very aware of not only hierarchy and their standing and influence within it (a link with political cultures), but also the specific role and related expertise they need to undertake and deliver during activities or projects (a link with expert cultures). This means they are likely to provide perspectives and ideas that can create bridges of understanding between political and expert cultures.

Click here to read the next post in the series.

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.
Click here for the next post in the series.

Sunday 17 March 2013

The organisational culture triangle

Click Here to see a short introductory video from Charles Lines about this and other related posts.  

This model identifies six organisational cultures that those working in partnership will commonly encounter. It also identifies their usual focus and preoccupations and gives an indication of the types of business and activities they undertake.

An important part of an organisation's cultural focus is whether it is inwardly or outwardly orientated.

Inwardly orientated cultures tend to be preoccupied by personal issues and needs and internal power and relationship dynamics. Who has the power within the organisation? Which people and groupings are influential within the organisation? How can one fulfil his/her personal needs within the organisation? Who does one have to cultivate and align one’s self with in order to become powerful and influential within the organisation? They also tend to look for external allies that they can pull in to support their position and increase their power and influence.   

Outwardly orientated cultures tend to be preoccupied with the external environment. How are they affecting the environment within which they exist? Are they having a positive or negative effect on their environment and the people upon which their activities are targeted? Are they making a meaningful contribution? Are they successfully interacting with their environment? Do they have a good and productive/profitable relationship with their environment and external people and customers? They also tend to look for external contacts that can be used as conduits through which they can push their information and services, so increasing the scope and depth of their activities.     

Political cultures value power and influence. They tend to be entrepreneurial type businesses with one or two key power brokers that groups tend to form around and with which individuals seek to align themselves. The way to meet personal goals within these organisations is to be a political player. For this reason political cultures tend to be inwardly orientated.

Artistic cultures value self development, fulfilment and contribution. They tend to be artistic and creative businesses consisting of people that value their personal development, the fulfilment of their potential and the contributions they can make. As people tend to value their personal development and are keen to make a difference and contribution, the focus of artistic cultures can sometimes be inward looking towards influencing the organisation to support personal development and sometimes outward looking towards maximising individual contributions to the external environment and society.

Functional cultures value hierarchy and role. They tend to be public service type organisations such as the military, civil service and local authorities. People within these organisations are keenly aware of their place within the internal hierarchy and also the role they are required to carry out in providing services. For this reason the focus of functional cultures can sometimes be inward looking and sometimes outward.

Passionate cultures value commitment and belief. They tend to be voluntary and community type organisations. Their people have a strong commitment to making a difference within their area of activity and also a strong belief that they are doing ‘the right thing’. For this reason the focus of passionate cultures tends to be predominately outward towards making a positive difference in the environment and society.

Pragmatic cultures value context and results. They tend to be financial and service organisations. Their people are keenly aware of the environment and context within which they are operating and seek to identify and adopt approaches that will achieve the best results for their organisations within these. For this reason the focus of pragmatic cultures tends to be predominately outward towards the environmental situation. They will analyse the environment within which they are active and find ways to survive and thrive within it.

Expert cultures value the acquisition and application of knowledge and experience. They tend to be consultancy and other specialist type organisations. Their people value not only adding to their knowledge, but also their ability to use their knowledge to solve problems and address complex situations within environments relevant to their expertise. As their focus is on the acquisition of knowledge and its application to their environment, the focus of expert cultures tends to be outward.

Look out for future posts that will explore how each of the above cultures tend to perceive each other and how relationships between them can be effectively managed.

Click here for the next post in the series. 

(Acknowledgement is given to Charles Handy and the four organisational cultures he describes in his book 'Gods of Management'.)

Friday 8 March 2013

Bite size pieces: create a shared sense of partnership time

'We all perceive the passing of time in different ways. These perceptions are influenced by the cultures we live and work within and how important or central an issue or subject is to us. If we are used to working within a fast paced environment we will become frustrated if results are not achieved quickly. If we are used to a slower pace, then not achieving results quickly will not worry us so much. If an issue is important to us it can often, regardless of the actual amount of time involved, feel as if ages are passing before it is addressed. If an issue is not important to us then the amount of time passing before it is addressed is of little or no personal significance, so even long periods of inactivity can go by almost unnoticed.

These differing perceptions of time and the significance of its passing will all be interacting with each other as a partnership comes together and begins its work. If these perceptions are not managed effectively they will cause mutual frustration, misunderstandings and perhaps even conflict.

Encouraging partners to think explicitly about how they perceive, react to and use the time they spend working together will discourage unhelpful preconceptions about what should be happening by when. It will help create a new, shared sense of pace and time that is appropriate to a partnership, what it needs to achieve and how it needs to achieve it. Discussions about partners' expectations and obligations, together with discussions about the balance and timing of rewards allocated to partners, are practical ways to create this shared sense of partnership time.'

From Sleeping with the Enemy - Achieving Collaborative Success:
For more details click here.