A thought-provoking evening last night spent at the first #culturevist event, a side project from Matthew Partovi (who is otherwise gainfully employed as a Customer Success Manager at Yammer, who hosted the event).

The audience seemed to split into two camps – those seeking to instill a “great culture” at their place of work, and those who see culture as an important factor in how to deliver change in a business. We heard from people from PwC, a midlands housing association, Innocent, Starbucks and an expert in Holocracy. And there was a lot of conversation between the sixty-plus folk who attended.

Thoughts (in no particular order) that it provoked for me…

– organisational culture is mostly derived from accident and serendipity. There are relatively few businesses that start off by clearly defining what their culture is and then building a business within in. Some of the stories of successful organisations might tell a tale of culture from the get-go, but as we know facts aren’t necessarily the same as the “truth” held within a good story.

– people (even interested groups like last night’s) still have incredibly diverse views about what culture is. Which means that in conversation people can be talking about totally different things (yet still nodding along politely).

– manifestations of culture – the things that we see around us and the behaviours demonstrated – are signals of what is going on underneath. Changing things at the top don’t necessarily impact the underlying culture – or at least not in the short term.

– language, however, is both a manifestation and a tool for change. Which bends my head a bit.

– can organisations (and their culture) outlive their founders? (most seem to not manage it?)

– radical new organisational design patterns like holocracy are going to need to accommodate within the organisational, professional and underlying national cultures that prevail. That strikes me as a long shot, particularly in hierarchical national cultures… see this.

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