Is Our Culture Curtailing Our Company?

Written by Carol Walker

Recently, an executive called me to discuss a delegation problem in his company. The symptoms of the problem were that senior staff members were working longer hours and experiencing more stress than the rest of the team. It’s quite possible that the problem stemmed from poor delegation skills. Some training couldn’t hurt.

It is equally possible, however, that the way work was getting done inside the organization was a direct product of its culture. A culture is simply the attitudes, values, goals, and practices shared by a group. Clearly, those shared things can have a large influence on how things happen inside a company. Leaders are often quick to give credit to ‘our culture’ when good things happen. They are sometimes less quick to realize when it is a root cause of dysfunction.

Growing, technologically-driven companies often develop cultures that encourage get-it-done-at-all-costs behaviors. The total focus is on the work. All that matters is the deadline, the contract or the deliverable. It’s understandable. It’s to some degree necessary. What many companies in this situation find, however, is that it’s not sustainable. The organization isn’t as robust as it needs to be because key people burn out, more junior players can’t solve problems, and the product or service begins to suffer. Then the firefighting really begins and the pressures expand. Staff development, delegation, thoughtful feedback and weekly one-on-ones are quickly pushed aside.

So you, dear leader, may in fact have a skill gap in your company that can be addressed with training. But as a leadership team you might also want to ask: Are our own behaviors contributing to the problem in any way? Do our values, norms and behaviors at times reinforce the behaviors we are criticizing in our team members? What messages (both subtle and direct) do we send to our managers about what is valued in the organization? Could these be significantly impacting the problem?

A little self-reflection couldn’t hurt.