Culture: the most discussed yet least understood topic on the planet

Last week I had a great discussion with a great friend, a new friend at that, but nonetheless a valuable one! This friend knows people, and the hows and whys of the way that people function in an organisation, a basket of knowledge I find not only interesting, but incredibly challenging.

I gave this friend a call for some wisdom on some recent challenges and I ended up taking away some ideas that had me thinking all afternoon.

Throughout the conversation, we got talking about an individuals effect on the culture of an organisation when this friend said "culture is the most discussed and the least understood topic on the planet" now it just so happens that culture is one of this friends strong suits, having some of the top companies in his client book, his deal is implanting and consulting on culture change initiatives. Now admittedly, I haven't read all of his musings, so my thoughts might actually just be old hat, but nonetheless I felt to share, and it made me reflect on what my contribution to culture has been, not just from an organisational point of view, but even in every day life. What are you contributing to the culture of where you are?

But what is this culture thing that we are so avidly discussing but not so avidly understanding? This friend defined culture as "people doing the same things regularly in each other's company" and the reason I liked this definition so much as to write it down was because "the same things" encompasses so much. In a work place, "the same things" (let's refer to this as TST for short) obviously refer to tasks and activities, but TST's could also be the water cooler gossip or eating lunch, topics of conversation, habitual occurrences, really absolutely anything! But the second facet to this definition is that it's not just someone's personal habits or activities, part of culture is that it's a combination of these things not only being done, but being done with and around the same people on a regular basis. So if our activities are influenced by the people we are around and the people we are around are influenced by our activities, who drives what?

For me, the biggest takeaway was that realisation that each and everyone of us impacts culture. We all have the ability to influence and manipulate and shape the environment around us, regardless of our title or position.

So what are some simple practical ways that you can help change the culture of where you're at?

1) Don't talk sideways, if you have a problem, report it up. One of the best ways to be an active groomer of good culture, is to make sure that you're not breeding an unjustified sense of unease wherever you are. Largely I see this at work, where maybe someone isn't so fussed on a decision that has been made, and they start to educated fellow employees on the drastic consequences of said decision, and more often than not these other colleagues were unaware of the consequences until that point in time! If you have a question, feel confident to ask the person above you, whether that be a team leader or manager, and know that you are contributing constructively to your colleagues work life!

2) Actively support your manager during times of change. Nobody likes a whinger, so rather than complaining at them when a change is being passed down, get on board and support the decision. Obviously if you have your doubts and they haven't been address, see point #1. Ask!

3) Treat other people how you'd like to be treated. I'm sure your mum has told you this many a time in your life, but that's because there's some truth to it. If you're not happy with the way someone has treated you, rather than being vindictive, take it on the chin and use that experience to shape the way you engage with people. Be the change you want to see.

4) Understand the vision. It's hard to be supportive of something you don't understand. Regardless of your position, take the time to read and visualise the vision of not just the person above you, but of the whole organisation or company. Understand the part you play in seeing that vision come to reality and take ownership of it! Chances are the more ownership you take over your part, the more ownership your colleagues will take over theirs, and in the end everybody is working easier! Sounds too good to be true right!


I'm sure this friend of mine would have a whole lot more to say on shaping culture, and you can pick his brain here at but as usual - that's my two cents!