The Hidden Ways Organizational Culture Can Impact Your Team’s Functioning

A few years ago when I was managing a high energy, informal, friendly, and fun team, I could count on everyone to work well together--with one exception. One of the men--a young recruit--was extremely structured, highly conforming, protective of his private time, and confrontational. He had been hired at a time when we were worried about having enough hands on deck to get all of the work done, but his presence contrasted starkly to everyone else in the team and anyone who interfaced with our office. We came to understand this situation as “not a good fit,” and it created misery on all sides.

Teams with a diverse pool of workers and thinkers can benefit from differences in style, but they take more time and effort from their leaders to support communications without conflict. When leaders misunderstand differences in style, they typically hire workers like themselves, creating a default culture where difference causes problems.

As a leader, you can decrease discomfort and increase productivity by increasing your awareness of personal style and organizational culture and how they interrelate.

People are extraordinarily complex individuals. We "flex" and show up differently depending on the situation, the people around us, and what is needed. However, most of us do have a default style—a way of behaving that is most comfortable, particularly under times of stress.

Consider these dimensions of personal style:

Every individual has a default style that can be ‘mapped’ along these dimensions:

If you are familiar with the DISC assessment, you may notice that High “D” is Dominant/Different, High “I” is Promoting/Influential, High S is Supporting/Steady, and High C is Analyzing/Conscientious.

The young man I described above likely could be described as Stable/Structured, Analyzing/Conscientious, Dominant/Different, and (slightly) Driven/Controlling.

Many people are familiar with the DISC styles and how they impact individual behavior, but what is less known is how each of these dimensions of personal style corresponds to organizational culture dimensions. When a team is predominantly staffed with a single behavioral style or closely related styles, the resulting team will have a culture that is heavily weighted toward that style. At a corporate or team level we would describe those cultures with different language:

Flexibility/Discretion: The organization focuses on its ability to change with circumstances or market forces and empower its workforce. Recently some organizations like Zappos and HolocracyOne have made headlines with their managerless structures and intentions of adapting  quickly to environmental changes. (Corresponds with “Flexibility/Informal.”)

Stability/Control: The organization focuses on its commitment to strategic direction and internal reliability. The people who work here must be on the same page. (Corresponds with “Stable/Structured.”)

Adaptability/Adhocracy: Chiefly tuned in to the changes in the marketplace and taking action to adapt. Dynamic, creative, and open to risk. (Corresponds with “Promoting/Influential” or “I” styles.)

Consistency/Hierarchy: A formalized work environment with high role definition and replicated practices/procedures. Normal in customer service businesses that pride themselves on consistency for customers no matter the geographic region. (Corresponds with “Analyzing/Conscientious” or “C” styles.)

External/Differentiated: Goal-oriented learning organizations that differentiate themselves from their competition in the marketplace and drive excellence in their processes and products. (Corresponds with “Dominant/Different.”)

Internal/Integrated: Focused on developing personnel--both leadership and the rank-and-file. Quality of teamwork and the values they share are paramount. (Corresponds with “Conforming/Easygoing.”)

Mission/Market: Executing the action plan that creates bottom-line results and move the organization toward realizing its goals. Corporations focus on stockholder value. (Corresponds with “Driven/Controlling” or “D” styles.)

Involvement/Clan: Commitment to the organization is most valued. Employees are “members of the family” with a career in the company. (Corresponds with “Supporting/Steady” or “S” styles.)

The workgroup I described at the start of this article would be described with the terms Flexibility/Discretion, Adaptability/Adhocracy, Internal/Integrated, and Involvement/Clan. In practically every dimension, the team and our one member who “didn’t fit” were opposites. This was not his fault, and he wasn’t wrong. But the similarities between others on the team and the difference between them and him became a source of frequent conflict and tension.

Leaders can increase effectiveness by tuning in to these dynamics, understanding their own default or preferred style and the benefits of diversity, understanding the style preferences and flexing capacity for each of their employees, and learning more about how to manage diversity.

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