complex-adaptive-systems and work culture change through discussions and how people work Mike Cardus

What makes culture change in your company or team difficult?

Is your current organizational culture – how things get done around here – working to attract-trust or repel-trust?

When I talk about culture change within a workplace the best thinker to reference is Edgar Schein:

“Schein’s model of organizational culture originated in the 1980s. Schein (2004) identifies three distinct levels in organizational cultures:

  1. artifacts and behaviors – any tangible, overt or verbally identifiable elements in any organization. Architecture, furniture, dress code, office jokes, all exemplify organizational artifacts. Artifacts are the visible elements in a culture, and they can be recognized by people not part of the culture.
  2. espoused values – the organization’s stated values and rules of behavior. It is how the members represent the organization both to themselves and to others. This is often expressed in official philosophies and public statements of identity. It can sometimes often be a projection for the future, of what the members hope to become. Examples of this would be employee professionalism, or a “family first” mantra. Trouble may arise if espoused values by leaders are not in line with the deeper implicit assumptions of the culture.
  3. assumptions – Shared basic assumptions are the deeply embedded, taken-for-granted behaviors which are usually unconscious but constitute the essence of culture. These assumptions are typically so well integrated into the office dynamic that they are hard to recognize from within.

Using Schein’s work on company culture change and the work of Dave Snowden on complex-adaptive-systems anthro-complexity  I’ve been working through some variations of How to think and support you and your organization to understand and make useful change within your culture? 

You as the knowledge source of culture change:

When you work with people, it is different than working with a machine. The work with people, i.e. culture change and leadership, is complex because people have values, ideas, moods and they perceive your leadership and ideas differently from moment to moment. Also, you are a part of your environment, workplace, along with your coworkers. How they act, feel, and respond will impact your perceptions of the work, organization, and leadership. This combination of views and values leads to a complex-adaptive-systems,  as pieces change, move, and adjust the outcome cannot be known. This lack of knowing does not mean you give up; it means that you try a different approach. An approach that places your coworkers and you at the center of the organizational change, and recognize that Human-Centered-Design places you as the interpreter and knowledge source of what does and does not work for change.

Below is one image of a cultureSCAN that I worked through with an executive team to give them a better understanding of how people see and experience the organization. sense-making through stories of what it is like to work here Mike Cardus culture change

As the team read through the entire culture report, they kept asking, “Is this good or bad?” I kept reminding them that the narratives, each dot in the triangle represents a person’s narrative response to what it is like to work here, and how the person shows the significance of their experience is what creates a pattern. The good or bad comes from the triad patterns and which narratives the team wishes to increase and decrease.

Within human-designed change / complex-adaptive-systems (all culture plus leadership work is a complex-adaptive-system) requires the voice of your team and those that interact with your service and product. Below is 5 steps that support change through how people work together and work within your organization.

Changes through a focus on how people interact:
  1. provide data that reflects everyday work experience within your environment or context – without any expert interpretation;
  2. work with you to identify patterns, and discuss how those patterns happened and what stories are happening within those patterns;
  3. discuss and define what you want to increase or amplify and decrease or dampen;
  4. support you to make the changes you wish to make;
  5. work with you to develop a way to gather feedback and measure the changes.

To change culture focus on how people interact. Start with how you and your coworkers interact with the company artifacts, espoused values, and assumptions. Once you can listen and map how we do things around here, then the what do we do, who we do it with, and why we do it that way can be changed and experimented to see changes in organizational culture and behavior.