Are you due for a cultural detox?

Recently, I have been working with a leadership team who have been together for over 5 years. They were a close team, highly functional in many ways, showing high emotional intelligence, solid relationships and overall strong results. And yet here they were stifled by repeating patterns of behaviour that had developed – otherwise known as culture – which they felt powerless to influence.

Culture is a mighty force. It is often underestimated how easily it is created. Most leaders are not fully aware that if they do nothing to consciously create a culture, one will develop anyway. As organizational development guru Edgar Schein said,

“The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture… If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.”

Essentially, culture is ‘the way we do things around here’. Over time, patterns, norms and unwritten rules develop that ‘good’ team members or employees learn and learn quickly.

My client team had developed a certain culture around conflict and confronting behavior that wasn’t working. They all knew there were certain tough ‘no-go’ areas within the team which would get them stuck and lead to rushed decision-making to avoid conflict.

At the individual level, one member would always take things personally and struggle to see the larger perspective. Another had difficulty delegating. Over time the patterns of attempting to confront these behaviors unsuccessfully led to resignation at the ‘we’ level within the team. A cultural belief developed ‘we cannot disagree with Jane’. And yet the whole team knew this is what is necessary to move forward into the next phase of growth for the organisation. Past events (for example, where the organization was misrepresented publicly without appropriate defence), were eating away at the basic sense of integrity of the organization to function among its peers. Innovation and creativity seemed to pack up and move out whenever one of these stuck patterns started to show up.

We decided it was time for a detox. It was time to ‘get complete’ about what from the past was hanging around that no longer served them – individually and collectively.

We worked at the 3 levels of I (individual), we (the team) and it (the organization or system). We started by having team members write down their answers to the following questions (found below) for themselves, the team and then the system or from the perspective of the organization. Perhaps the most surprising results showed up in getting complete at the level of the organization. As team members acknowledged and took responsibility for the organization, even in areas they were not directly involved, a sense of pride and possibility started to emerge. Gestalt theory posits that whatever is not complete will continue to ask for attention. Once the attention is paid and dealt with, energy can be freed up to apply to new possibilities.

Immediately following this activity, they went to an industry conference where contentious competitor relationships usually meant collaboration, that would otherwise benefit this company, were held to a minimum. Having been viewed as an underdog for several years, this year they showed up complete about the past, with new energy available and a new foundation present on which the team could build relationships on even ground. They showed up as powerful, equal players on the stage, and as a result, offers of strategic alliances and new ventures started to show up all over the place.

When was the last time you or your team did a detox to look at what is hanging around the system that is not complete and therefore dragging on the system and siphoning away precious energy and resources?

We invite you to have a detox conversation with your team following the questions below and let us know how it goes!

Completing and clearing out for the new to emerge
Cultural detox questions:

  1. What do you want to be acknowledged for? (Something you have done or not done that you want to be noticed, witnessed, or seen)
  2. What do you want to be appreciated for or what do you want to appreciate others for? (Something you have done or not done that you want to express gratitude for or others to express gratitude toward you for)
  3. What do you regret? (Something you have done or not done that you wish you had/hadn’t)
  4. What are you not communicating or withholding? (Something you have not communicated but need to or want to)
  5. What untruths do you want to correct or speak to? (Something that you have allowed to be said or understood about someone or something that is not correct)
  6. Is there someone or something you are making wrong or blaming?
  7. What do you want to ‘let go’ of?
  8. What do you want to invite to ‘let come’?

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