The Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional & Executive Development is proud to partner with Human Synergistics International to provide assessments and data into your leadership style, organizational culture, agility, and readiness for change. The following article by Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D., and Cathleen Cooke was published to the Human Synergistics Constructive Culture blog on March 9, 2022.
Question/Comment: Thinking about young entrepreneur generations and if virtual work remains, what do you believe will be required for creating a culture in these new organizations?
Submitted by Edgar Gutierrez, Drive Consulting, Colombia
Cathleen: In looking at the Ideal culture profiles created by Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y upon entering the workforce (yes, HS has been around that long), they’re all similar in shape—that is, they’re predominantly Constructive. In short, people of all generations believe that a Constructive culture (one with expectations for achieving mutually set goals, emphasizing quality over quantity, giving positive rewards to others, and showing concern for people) should be expected to maximize effectiveness. And research and application demonstrate that Constructive cultures lead to employee engagement and performance. Therefore, organizations should focus on creating Constructive cultures by closing any gaps between their Ideal and Current culture profiles. Among the best ways for organizations to move towards Constructive cultures is through one of the 31 levers for cultural change–leadership. Organizations should continue to develop Constructive managers and leaders by providing them with insights into their behaviors and impact on others.
Like generations entering the workforce in years before them, Gen Z will thrive in Constructive cultures regardless of the workplace structure (e.g., remote, hybrid, onsite).
Rob: I agree with Cathleen’s suggestion and want to emphasize the importance of the 31 levers for cultural change measured by the Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®, our climate survey, which is often administered along with (or after) the culture survey. One set of levers always required for creating a culture revolves around “articulation of mission”—and the specification and communication of not only mission but also values and philosophy will become even more important as organizations move toward virtual. Leaders will have to devote more time and effort to clearly specifying the organization’s mission and values (the ideal culture) and to operationalize them in terms of specific objectives and behaviors.
They will also have to more fully explain and communicate why certain strategies and decisions were selected (or rejected) to ensure consistency with the mission and preferred culture. Just as in traditional organizations, leaders will have to communicate values and goals by role modeling, telling stories and providing examples, and rewarding the desired behaviors and accomplishments. However, given that opportunities for doing so may be reduced in a hybrid workplace, they may also need to more frequently initiate discussions to explicitly review whether recent decisions, structural changes, new technologies, and the like are supporting or undermining the organization’s purpose and culture.
Question/Comment: What ways can we increase personal connections/community outside of teams in a hybrid environment? Anything that’s a virtual social ends up losing all attendees over time since it’s an extra thing people have to do instead of an impromptu in-person connection…so struggling with how to build social connections/community virtually.
Submitted by Lis Russo, Culture Strategy Lead, Gensler
Cathleen: I’ve found that by continuing (or starting up) regular meetings (e.g., monthly all hands, one-on-ones with managers, pop-up cross-functional teams, and functional team meetings), people have time to connect and catch up socially at the beginning and end of meetings. For more task-oriented organizations, leaders and managers should be mindful of encouraging this expectation and norm. In many industries (e.g., manufacturing), front-line workers want to see and talk to leadership. These interactions can be primarily social and take place in person or virtually. The most important thing is that they’re taking place in some way! In short, an Affiliative culture can be embedded in the everyday workplace. It just needs to be encouraged, role modeled, and expected by leadership.
Rob: When we started studying group processes and virtual teams many years ago, we found that the same type of team-building exercises used with face-to-face teams were relevant to “vteams.” Fast forwarding a couple of decades, it still seems relevant to get teams together for some group process training (and discussions around interpersonal relations) designed around non-work problems and issues.
Also, when online group meetings involve a large number of attendees, it seems that a lot of time is lost at the beginning of such meetings while waiting for everyone to show-up. I think it’s worth it to assign attendees to “rooms” during the first five minutes of such meetings to facilitate informal, social interaction within smaller groups. This would be particularly appropriate if participants were going to work within these smaller or breakout teams later in the meeting.
Question/Comment: How do you suggest aligning program team culture with the organizational culture. I’m on a large transformational project with over 60 people on the project team (combined internal and third-party consultants). We are adopting an agile approach which introduces a lot of new behavioral expectations that don’t align with the way the rest of the organization behaves. What’s the best way to help program team members adapt to these dynamics? Thank you! I always love to hear Robert talk culture.
Submitted by Darci R. Poole, Principal Consultant, Outside-In Consulting, Inc.
Rob: Hello Darci! From my perspective, some of the most interesting work on project teams is being carried out by the Agile 2 Academy. Agile 2® is “A second iteration of Agile that understands and seeks to address today’s challenges…” It is built around updated principles and six sets of seemingly distinct values (e.g., thoughtfulness versus prescription, individual empowerment versus good leadership). Per your question, like Agile and other innovative ways of working, Agile 2 can be a challenge to implement in organizations with norms and expectations for more traditional or divergent behavioral styles.
I’ve been discussing the relationship between Agile 2 and culture with Cliff Berg, Managing Partner of the Agile 2 Academy. We see important parallels between the Agile 2 values and principles (at the project level) and the Constructive norms and styles measured by the Organizational Culture Inventory® (at the organizational level).
We propose and are working to empirically test the hypothesis that Constructive (compared to Defensive) organizational cultures more effectively support the adoption and implementation of the Agile 2 principles, which include the range of positive leadership styles that are supported by a Constructive culture. Organizations with strong Constructive cultures are expected to be more successful than those with Defensive cultures because (1) expectations within the former are more consistent with Agile 2 values and principles and (2) provide greater support for project team members to effectively engage in Agile ways. Additionally, Constructive norms facilitate the implementation of Agile given that they make it easier for team members to switch between different behaviors within the project team as well as when interacting with external groups (ambidexterity).
We have launched a research project to demonstrate the link between Constructive organizational culture and Agile 2. “We expect the results of this research will bring visibility to the importance of agility-promoting behaviors, workplace culture, and the attributes that distinguish the highest-performing organizations. We are inviting organizations to support and participate in the study.
Question/Comment: Are these whitepapers/studies [mentioned by Cathleen while reviewing Slide 11] available for us to view/read?
Rob: Thanks for asking. The slide on “Culture and Outcomes” is one of our favorite “vintage” PowerPoints summarizing some of the original studies confirming the positive connection between Constructive cultures and organizational effectiveness and sustainability. Relevant whitepapers, articles, presentations, and other resources for the first three topics “Across Organizations” (top half of the slide) include:
Culture and Profitability:
The original presentation is: Sanders, E.J. & Cooke, R.A.. Financial Returns from Organizational Culture Improvement: Translating “Soft” Changes into “Hard” Dollars. Presented at the ASTD Expo in Orlando, FL, June 6, 2005.
More recently, research reports and case studies on the relationship between cultural norms and outcomes such as profitability are reviewed in Chapter 1 (Why create a Constructive Culture?) of Creating Constructive Cultures by Janet L. Szumal with Robert A. Cooke.
Yet more recent case studies—on organizations such as Hanes, ERDMAN, Johnsonville Sausage—can be found on the “Resources” page of our website.
The research projects on readership, focusing on newspapers as they were adapting to digital platforms and new readers, were carried out by the Media Management Center of Northwestern University. Newspapers with Constructive cultures were better able to adapt to change, to produce newspapers with high “readership scores,” and were more profitable than those with less Constructive cultures. A summary of some of the findings is presented in a white paper by the two of the research directors.
All Eyes Forward by Vickey Williams presents case studies of 10 of the newspapers that participated in the larger study.
Best of the Best (Canada):
The cultures of some of the best organizations in Canada, including those receiving multiple best place to work awards, were studied using the Organizational Culture Inventory. The results showed that their cultures were consistently more Constructive and less Defensive than the average organization. The results are reported in The Best of the Best: The role of leadership and culture in creating Canada’s best organizations, available on our website.
The Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional & Executive Development has several programs designed to help you create a positive culture whether your teams are in-person, virtual, or hybrid. Learn more about Coaching and Motivating in the Workplace, Managing Teams Effectively, Leadership Beyond Management, and Building a Culture of Inclusion and Belonging.
We can also work with your organization on culture and leadership consulting, coaching, and professional development programs customized to your organization’s specific needs. Set up a Discovery Session to speak with a Solutions Advisor and learn more.
About the Authors
Robert Cooke, Ph.D.
Robert A. Cooke, Ph.D. is CEO and Director of Human Synergistics International and Associate Professor Emeritus of Management at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Cooke specializes in the development and validation of surveys used for individual, group, and organization development. His surveys include the Organizational Culture Inventory®, Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®, Leadership/Impact®, and Group Styles Inventory™, which have been translated into numerous languages and used worldwide for developing leaders, teams, and organizations. He is the author of more than 75 articles, chapters, and technical reports in journals including Psychological Reports and The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. Cooke received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, where he was a National Defense (Title IV) and Commonwealth Edison Fellow.
Cathleen is the Chief Client Officer for Human Synergistics where she’s responsible for integrating client-facing functions and cultivating an exceptional client experience. She served previously as Director of Marketing leading marketing efforts for the U.S. market and ensuring global brand alignment across the international offices. Cathleen is accredited in the full suite of Human Synergistics products and collaborates with clients on leadership development and culture initiatives.