Listening to Your Work Environment


Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

In 2016, I first discussed the notion of an organization’s culture core. Reader response to that post and the numerous discussions which have ensued — have fueled an interest in both individual and organizational core stability. Of late, I’ve been exploring a group of key concepts and contributing psychological constructs (psychological contracts, psychological safety, etc.) that either build or work against a cultural core’s potential to provide stability. To orient you to that discussion, here is an excerpt from that post:

“In this ever-changing world of work, I’m going to go out on a proverbial limb and vote for stability. Not the type of stability that shoots you in the foot and has the potential to signal an organizational downfall (resting on laurels, complacency, lack of customer connection). I’m speaking of the kind of internal stability that allows your organization’s engines to really rev and take flight. The kind of security borne of trust and understanding.

This is your organization’s cultural core.”

Interestingly, we often conflate the notion of declared culture and the experienced operating culture. This demands that we fully understand the state of the organization’s true culture. The misunderstandings that can ensue affect not only the larger organization, but individuals and teams as well. In recent work exploring “dark side” elements, we discuss what might stand in the way of core stability — and how the operating culture belies its intentions. When organizations seek continued excellence or positive change, these elements work against progress, ultimately driving real-time behaviors. In a way, they live as destructive undercurrents.

Righting the course, demands that we listen intently to the environment and expose its reality. If not, we function within cultures that exert silent, negative pressure, because we fail to acknowledge the operating “energy field”. We might invest in training and nothing seems to change. We reiterate the organization’s mission & values, but somehow behavior remains out of alignment. These are symptoms of the dynamic.

Taking the time to identify what truly stands in the way of progress (and excellence) is an important conversation. This demands that we listen intently to the environments in which we work. In my work with high-performance teams, this has become one of the most important exercises of the diagnostic process. This work is rooted in my exposure to the auto industry and the Toyota Production System. Tantamount to this system is the philosophy of “jidoka” — where the production line could be stopped at any moment an employee detected an issue that will might quality (More here.) Jikoda is built on respect for human wisdom in manufacturing environments. It demands — and supports — intently “listening” to one’s work environment. I find the concept particularly helpful, when unraveling performance issues within teams.

Often teams ignore the counter-productive currents working against excellence. In many cases issues are detected, but not fully addressed. This can occur because negative undercurrents operating within the culture. Here is a quick reference guide to help your team “stop the line” when they detect a problem. (A slide from a current talk):

We treat strength alignment as a luxury — when in fact it is a necessity.(5)Have you ever found yourself in an environment where the operating culture overpowered the declared culture? What happened? How did you unravel the issues?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who explores challenge and change in work life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program since 2012 — her thoughts on work life and core stability have appeared in various outlets including Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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Marla Gottschalk


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